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Looking Backward

Edward Bellamy


Study Questions

What role does plot play in Looking Backward?

The plot of Looking Backward is minimal and simple, because Bellamy's main purpose is to "educate" his nineteenth-century audience about what he perceived to be the evils of their social and economic systems. The plot is thus a thinly-disguised vehicle for Bellamy's ideas about social and economic reform. The love story is only a means to hold the reader's interest, so that Bellamy can lay out the blueprint of his idea of the perfect society.

How does Bellamy use Julian West and Doctor Leete to win his readers over to his point of view?

As a representative of the nineteenth century transported to the twentieth century, Julian is capable of criticizing nineteenth-century society. He clearly speaks as an enthusiastic supporter of the social and economic structure in Bellamy's imagined twentieth-century utopia. Bellamy well knows that his reading audience is likely to be hostile and incredulous regarding many of his ideas for social reform, so he persuades his readers to consider his radical vision of the perfect society by using a narrator with whom they can identify. Julian is a well-educated aristocrat, like much of the nineteenth-century reading public. He thus functions as a guide to Bellamy's strange, late-twentieth-century society. The long discussions between Julian and Doctor Leete are a symbolic representation of the dialogue between Bellamy and his audience. Julian, as a product of the nineteenth-century society, represents Bellamy's readers. Doctor Leete, as the mouthpiece for Bellamy's ideas, represents Bellamy himself. Through Julian, Bellamy anticipates the questions and concerns of his audience about his proposals for social reform. He rationally and systematically responds to these questions and concerns through Doctor Leete.

Bellamy harshly criticizes the social conditions of the nineteenth century. This criticism is an implied criticism of his readers and their beliefs. How does he soften the blow of this critical attitude toward his audience and their beliefs?

Julian characterizes the conditions of the nineteenth century as a moral outrage. Bellamy softens his harsh critique of his audience's most cherished beliefs by asserting that ignorance largely accounts for the existence of this outrage. Moreover, Julian asserts that the utopia he describes is the logical outcome of the nineteenth century's rapid industrialization. Contrary to his contemporaries' beliefs, the nineteenth century is not the apex of human civilization, but only one stop along the way. By placing his strange, unfamiliar, somewhat threatening vision of the future with the context of rational and logical progress, Bellamy attempts to persuade his incredulous and reluctant readers to give serious thought to his proposals for social reform.

Discuss and critique the role of women in Bellamy's imagined utopia.

How does Bellamy build a case for his assertion that an economy based on private capital would be more efficient than one based on private capital?

Discuss and critique the political system in Bellamy's imagined utopia.

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Stagecoach analogy

by callmeklutchkid, February 16, 2014

I think it's important to include the stage coach analogy in the summary because I think it plays a big role in the set up of the story and it's just overall a big point in the book.


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