Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Leete shows Julian West how to set the telephone in his room to awaken himself the next morning to music. Julian takes the opportunity to ask Dr. Leete about the state of the rest of the world. The doctor says that "the great nations of Europe, as well as Australia, Mexico, and parts of South America" have followed America's lead, forming industrial socialist structures. They are all governed by a central body that regulates matters among nations, such as emigration, international travel, and trade, in order to keep things fair for all countries. Dr. Leete claims they "all look forward to an eventual unification of the world as one nation."

Edith Leete suggests that the family and Julian dine out that evening as is their usual custom at the public dining room. Julian is amenable. Edith shows Julian the family's library, thinking he will find authors from his day to be like old friends. Julian reads some Charles Dickens, and the book serves to highlight the differences between the 19th and 20th centuries. Julian imagines that persons who worked for social change in that century would be more deserving than he to witness the peaceful society in which he now finds himself. Dr. Leete finds Julian with Dickens's book and approves of the author. He praises Dickens for doing so much to "turn men's minds to the wrong and wretchedness of the old order of things" by rightly recognizing and portraying the ills of capitalism for the poor.

Analysis

Dr. Leete reveals that the larger goal of the new social system is for the whole world to become a single nation. Already a governing body, something like what readers would recognize as the United Nations, oversees international affairs. It has much stronger control than anything currently in existence, however, and its goal is strict equality among all member nations. It ensures an absolutely even playing field. No trade deficits are allowed. A world of countries united into a single nation assumes a great level of unity and equanimity among them all.

The author uses Dickens, one of the most famous and popular authors of his century, to get even more agreement from readers for his socialist scheme. Dickens, admired even by Dr. Leete, clearly recognized the deleterious effects of capitalism on society, most notably in the piteous condition of the poor. In contrast to Dickens, Julian cannot help but be moved by the stark contrast between the world Dickens described and life in the socialist utopia of the year 2000. The author appeals to the authority of Dickens to bolster his argument that a solution to society's ills was desperately needed and that socialism, or nationalism as he might prefer it known, was the answer.

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