Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward

Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

''Looking Backward'' is a science-fiction novel written by Edward Bellamy in 1887 that tells the story of his utopian, socialist vision of America set in the year 2000.

Utopian Vision

Have you ever daydreamed about a perfect world? What kinds of things make it perfect? Are you influenced by positive experiences you've had or something you wish you could change? Some people's idea of perfection could be getting to relax on a beach all day every day, but for others, a utopian society is one in which all people can live better lives. Many authors have described these societies, including Edward Bellamy who wrote Looking Backward in 1887.

Bellamy was raised in Massachusetts in a strict Calvinist community. But the faith's focus on the afterlife rather than improving conditions on earth caused him to turn away. Bellamy pursued law and then journalism so that he could make an impact through social reform. He ultimately turned to writing fiction, where he was able to detail the world as he felt it should exist. Looking Backward emphasizes social equality through a society of shared capital.

Social Impact

By the time Looking Backward was published, America had come through Civil War, economic depression, and violent uprisings over the formation of unions. Businesses were becoming more powerful by monopolizing industries and controlling wealth. High immigration numbers meant there was an abundance of workers who were largely happy to have any job and wage. Many Americans were struggling and had little opportunity to change their situations.

In the novel, Bellamy's main character, Julian West, was transported to the year 2000 when these problems were no longer going to be a burden. His utopia is one in which production is nationally owned and all goods are distributed equally to the citizens. In short, Bellamy had created a world in which all of society's ills could be solved through socialism. As he writes from the perspective of Dr. Leete, West's future guide, ''The producers of the nineteenth century were not, like ours, working together for the maintenance of the community, but each solely for his own maintenance at the expense of the community'' (pg 151).

Some additional elements of Bellamy's ideal future were:

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