Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. and Mrs. Leete are surprised to learn of Julian West's early morning walk. Julian asks them where the shops and banks have gone. Dr. Leete answers that both are "obsolete in the modern world," as is money itself. Julian thinks the doctor must be joking. The topic of conversation changes, and it is not until the two men are alone on the roof that the doctor explains the economic system in depth. Private production made money necessary in order to buy and sell, but because production has been centralized, direct distribution of goods makes money unnecessary. Instead, citizens are all given credits at the beginning of the year, which are used like a punch card whenever they obtain goods.

To Julian's astonishment, Dr. Leete says that all people receive the same number of credits, regardless of the type of work they provide. The nation takes care of citizens, "from the cradle to the grave." Julian wonders if those who work harder don't think they deserve more than those who produce little. The doctor explains that a citizen is worthy of payment merely because of "his humanity. The basis of his claim is the fact that he is a man." He claims that each man is expected to work according to his ability, and motives for hard work transcend material reward to include national honor and prestige in the community. Julian wishes to hear more specifics about this system, but the men are interrupted by the appearance of Edith Leete, who is leaving to do some shopping for her father. Dr. Leete suggests Julian accompany his daughter, who "is an indefatigable shopper." This will enable him to see the distribution center.

Analysis

Chapter 9 answers Julian West's question from Chapter 7: How is workers' pay determined? Dr. Leete says that in the new social industrial system, there is no currency. There are no stores and no bank because goods are distributed directly by the administration which is also responsible for regulating production and employment. Instead of money, citizens are all given the same number of credits at the start of the year. When they need items, a set number of credits are removed from their credit balance, much like a modern debit card. There is no more buying and selling per se, simply redeeming credits for products. Every year the credits are renewed, making savings unnecessary. The nation cares for citizens their whole lives, "cradle to ... grave."

Julian speaks to readers of the 19th century, so when he describes his utopian society of the year 2000, they were likely intrigued and perhaps inspired to realize it. Modern readers today, on the other hand, may feel uneasy about some issues. For example, the whole discussion of employment uses the pronoun "he" and the noun "man." The suggestion that simple humanity is the basis for deserving a lifetime of care and support by the nation suggests women are included in some way, but neither Julian nor Dr. Leete seem aware that they should include women in their descriptions of the society. Readers are left to wonder what the role of women might be. They do not as yet seem to be included in the employment scheme. The only clue at this point is a rather sexist stereotype that remains today, the characterization of Edith Leete as an "indefatigable shopper." Readers will have to keep reading to find out if that is her only function in this new social utopia and what—if any—other options exist for women.

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