Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 7 | Summary



Dr. Leete and Julian West continue their conversation about the national industrial system, and Julian asks the doctor how individuals are placed in various jobs. Dr. Leete explains that each person chooses his or her own profession based on aptitude and preferences. Everyone must serve three years as common, unskilled laborers, but then they may pursue the field of their choice. If workers wish to change jobs, they are allowed to do so under certain circumstances. Julian asks about regulation, as certain jobs are more desirable than others. Dr. Leete explains that it is the job of the administration "to seek constantly to equalize the attractions of the trades." They adjust the hours to make distasteful or difficult jobs more desirable, while more popular jobs require longer hours. The doctor also notes that safe working conditions are of paramount importance. Particularly challenging jobs are identified as hazardous, and men do them in order to be deemed "worthy of the national gratitude." Those who prefer "brainwork" over handwork must undergo rigorous academic training after completing three years of unskilled labor. Julian protests that Dr. Leete has said nothing of how wages are set for various jobs. He suggests wages that are stipulated by a single administration would provoke protests. Dr. Leete promises more answers after Julian has had some rest, as it is then three in the morning. He gives Julian something to drink, and Julian falls asleep immediately.


The author seems to have thought of everything when it comes to a national industrial system as far as employment is concerned. However, he purposely omits one major detail: how wages are set. The author has clearly spent a great deal of time thinking about how his concept of the industrial system would work and in anticipating objections to it. These objections are voiced in this chapter by Julian. The system the author has created is very worker-centered, with people able to choose whatever work they wish or what hours that suit them best. Their safety is assured as much as possible. Workers even have the power to change jobs if they wish or pursue higher learning if they have an aptitude for it. The author introduces an administration to regulate the system, ensuring a balance among the popularity of jobs, difficulty, danger, and reward to maintain a workforce in equal measure with various positions that must be filled. Readers should note that reward is not higher pay but fewer working hours and "national gratitude." Readers, like Julian, will wonder about pay. Why doesn't the administration just pay workers more for dangerous work, and how does the administration, itself a monopoly, set wages that satisfy everyone? The author ends the chapter without answering the question, creating a bit of suspense. This serves to draw readers' attention to the question of money in this new society—not unintentional on the author's part. They will have to keep reading to find that big question out.

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