Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Looking Backward Study Guide." Course Hero. 25 Oct. 2017. Web. 27 May 2022. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, October 25). Looking Backward Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Looking Backward Study Guide." October 25, 2017. Accessed May 27, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/.


Course Hero, "Looking Backward Study Guide," October 25, 2017, accessed May 27, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/.

Looking Backward | Chapter 11 | Summary



The house is empty when Julian West and Edith Leete return from shopping. Edith asks Julian if he enjoys music, and he assumes she is offering to play or sing for him. She laughs at the assumption and explains that the industrial army includes troupes of professional musicians who provide a 24-hour-a-day program of music transmitted to subscribers' homes via telephone. Edith reflects that much of the population would have been excluded from enjoying high-quality music back in Julian's time. Now it is available to everyone for just a few credits. Julian makes his selection from the program for the day, and Edith produces the music by turning a few screws on the wall, filling the room with the sound of an organ, an instrument they both prefer. She tells Julian that each bedroom is also equipped with a receiver so that he may listen at any time.

That evening Julian asks Dr. Leete about inheritance, and the doctor explains that individuals are free to leave personal items to whomever they wish. People only wish to keep that which they can use or enjoy, as there is no possibility of selling them for profit, and anything they do not or cannot house they pass along to friends or return to the state. Julian then asks about domestic duties and servants. Mrs. Leete says that there is no housework to speak of. Laundry is done at a central laundry service, food is prepared in central kitchens, and sewing services are provided in public shops. Extra help can be requested, which is deducted from the requester's credits. Julian calls this system "a paradise for womankind." Dr. Leete agrees that life had been very difficult for women in Julian's day because of the "incapacity for cooperation which followed from the individualism ... [of] your social system ... [and the] inability to perceive that you could make ten times more profit out of your fellow men by uniting with them than by contending with them." Dr. Leete explains that doctors like him had attended patients for the same number of credits, and all are certified by rigorous training.


The author introduces another piece of futuristic technology in Chapter 11. Although the telephone had been patented in 1876 (before the writing of the novel), it was not until several decades later that it came into regular, everyday use. The telephone in the novel is a device used not for communication between individuals but, in this case, for transmitting music. Imagine how strange it would have seemed to readers in the 19th century for the sound of an organ to suddenly fill an empty room when Edith simply turns a couple of screws. The author illustrates that this piece of technology has changed society in a specific way. Music via telephone allows individuals to enjoy just the music they wish to hear without the inconvenience of traveling to a music hall at a specific hour, or even seeing those who produce the music. While this piece of technology increases convenience and efficiency, in this case the technology also has an isolating effect. Because of the telephone, music is no longer a social gathering (as it had been in Julian's day), it is a private pleasure. Also in contrast to Julian's day, the telephone now makes social interaction in this instance unnecessary, whereas communication and interaction was the primary purpose of the telephone originally.

The author continues to explore the idea that socialism is actually more profitable than capitalism. In contrast to individualism, collectivism is more efficient and productive, if Dr. Leete is to be believed. He claims the "incapacity for cooperation" that stemmed from capitalism's individualism prevented people from realizing that "ten times more profit" would be made if people worked together for mutual benefit. This is precisely what makes the author's brand of socialism so appealing. It is essentially capitalism made better. The corporations, stockholders, and paid labor force are replaced with a national owner and an industrial army. It is familiar enough to be nonthreatening—and who doesn't want to be better off? In the new system, people are more affluent—not less—than they had been before. They work less, not more, than they had before.

Readers may object to Julian West's sexist characterization of the new order as "a paradise for womankind," given that the gender of the workers at the central laundry and kitchen are not specified, but it certainly seems like less manual labor for women like Mrs. Leete and Edith. This begs the question again about precisely what role, if any, women played in the industrial army. It also raises the question of class. If readers assume there are women working in the laundry or kitchens, and Mrs. Leete and Edith do not, are they not part of a privileged class?

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Looking Backward? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!