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Analysis Of Looking Backward: 2000-1887
Analysis Of Looking Backward: 2000-1887
Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was an attempt to show Americans who desired the utopian sense of community what it could truly be. Looking Backward addressed the yearnings of a society stricken by economic panics and social collapse by proposing an Eden-like community in which war, hunger, greed and malice were eradicated from society. While the story followed the wonderment of Julian West as he awoke in a Boston of 2000 AD after 113 years of sleep, the text focused on Bellamy's description through the kindly and omniscient character, Dr. Leete of a post-revolutionary society which emancipated the individual from the horrors of capitalism. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Bellamy is simply trying to suggest ways in which to improve his own society at the time whether it be politics or business practices.
The first thing Julian inquires about his the problem of labor strikes, something very prominent in his time due to the newly formed labor unions. “The National Labor Union (NLU) hailed the virtues of a simpler America, when workers controlled their workday, earned a decent living, and had time to be good citizens” (Davidson, Nation of Nations, 626). Dr. Leete explains that with generous capital, any worker with a decent idea can become his own boss and the need for unions and strikes desisted. This was something that had begun occurring already in Bellamy’s time, as had monopolies. This was the second step in the eradication of strikes as companies began to aggregate and form large syndicates. Finally, the largest syndicate of all, the government took over all industry. “When it was proposed that the nation should assume their functions (corporations), the suggestions implied nothing impractical even to the timid” (Bellamy, Looking Backward, 67). With this in mind, Julian asks who the enemies of the government are, whether they are other nations or natural ills. Dr. Leete responds with the mind-blowing realization of a perfect society. “We have no wars now…but in order to protect every citizen against hunger, cold, nakedness, and provide for his physical and mental needs, the function is assumed of directing his industry for a term of years” (Bellamy, Looking Backward, 68).
The next major question was unemployment. During the any era, this is always going to be problem. Though a person who is educated can generally get a job, an uneducated person can only do menial labor. In the 19th century, there weren’t enough jobs to go around so many were forced to beg or wait in long lines outside factories for work. However, the so-called industrial army provided jobs for one and all not to mention free and mandatory education up to the equivalent of college. Then, based on what people were good and wished to do, they were placed in their permanent jobs for which they worked until 45, the age of retirement. Another problem with employment was wages. In the 19th century, wages were on the average very low with the average worker having to spend nearly all their money on food and shelter without room for luxury. Now, everyone earned the same thing and it was his or her hours of work that varied from job to job. Even if everyone worked, problems would still occurred with production in the 19th century. Since producer has no clue as to how much of a certain product was needed by the population, there was almost always a surplus or lack of a certain product. In the new society, distribution was carefully calculated by an average consumption rate. Thus there is never a shortage and any surplus can be given to other nations.
Another problem was the schism between the rich and the poor. There wasn’t enough of a median for the two groups to interact except with through work-hire relationships. The real problem was money, something this world didn’t have. This also eliminated the need for crime since everyone had the same amount and no one was jealous of anyone else’s property. The last two problems were female and child labor. In the 19th century, both of these two groups still worked but were paid less and often were treated much worse. Women nowadays were part of the same system men were and were paid equally. In fact, Dr. Leete felt they should be paid more. “Can you think of any service constituting a stronger claim on the nation’s gratitude than bearing and nursing the nation’s children?” (Bellamy, Looking Backward, 188). Children of course had education to worry about until the age of 21 and thus couldn’t work.
As one can see, everything in the book is just putting on paper a way to improve society in every way. Through the control of all economy by the government, all of society’s evils have been eradicated. As for the predictions it makes, this is a novel of utopian society. As far as inventions go, the only things accurate were electric lighting, shopping malls and radio. Everything else in this book is just wishful thinking on the part of Bellamy.
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