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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Quotes


I ... compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along.

Julian West, Chapter 1

Julian West creates an allegory for the unregulated capitalism of the 19th century. He compares it to a large coach, pulled by the vast majority of humanity who are the poor. On top ride the wealthy. The driver is hunger. Although all participants are aware of the inequity of the system, none believe an alternative exists.


This is ... the year 2000, and you have slept exactly one hundred and thirteen years, three months, and eleven days.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 3

The premise of the novel, the event which serves as the vehicle for the author's advocacy of what he calls nationalism, is Julian West's transportation through time to the Boston of the future. Dr. Leete tells Julian he has been in suspended animation for over a hundred years. Much to his disbelief, Julian has awakened in the year 2000 in a world transformed.


Early in the last century the evolution was completed by the final consolidation of the entire capital of the nation.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 5

Dr. Leete refers to the movement toward consolidation of ownership of businesses in the 19th century. It occurred as increasingly more corporations combined into more monopolies and trusts and fewer companies. The process opened the way to a "golden future." Dr. Leete argues that the next logical step in this evolution was a single owner of all capital and industry. This owner was the government of a new social system. Dr. Leete recalls that the consolidation of all capital happened early in the 20th century, not too many years after Julian went into his long sleep.


When the nation became the sole employer, all the citizens ... became employees, to be distributed according to the needs of industry.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 6

Every citizen in the nation is part of the industrial army in some way. Each citizen is educated, trained, and given a job according to his or her abilities. Poor health or other limitations might prevent some from serving, but even the ill and insane contribute as they are able in an invalid corps. There is no unemployment, nor is there a glut of workers in any one field of work, as employees are distributed in a carefully regulated way by the single employer, the nation.


Health and safety are conditions common to all industries. The nation does not maim and slaughter its workmen ... as did the private capitalists ... of your day.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 7

The welfare of all its citizens is the primary focus of the nation rather than profit. As such, the nation takes care of its workers, ensuring the safety and provision of all workers, across all industries. The focus of capitalist employers was on increasing their own wealth, so working conditions and hazards were not a big concern. Dr. Leete claims the old system resulted in the injury and death of workers, which rarely occurs under the new system.


The nation guarantees the nurture, education, and comfortable maintenance of every citizen from the cradle to the grave.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 9

Dr. Leete explains to Julian West that every citizen in the nation is given the same number of credits to use as they see fit to supply all their needs. Credits are distributed regardless of how much work, if any, they do. The nation also provides universal education.


The individualism on which your social system was founded ... [created] an inability to perceive that you could make ... more profit ... by uniting with them.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 11

Dr. Leete argues that consolidating capital and production under one owner, the nation, has actually created more wealth than capitalism produced. Instead of industries and individuals competing against one another, they now collaborate. Through the cooperation of industry and the uniting of forces, profits increase.


The worker is not a citizen because he works, but works because he is a citizen.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 12

Julian West is surprised that citizens all receive the same credit, even though some work less or even not at all. Dr. Leete explains that the basis for national provision for each person is simply their humanity, their citizenship in the new social order. That status also inspires citizens to work for the good of the nation.


The equal wealth and equal opportunities of culture which all persons now enjoy have simply made us all members of one class.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 14

According to Dr. Leete, equal distribution of wealth and universal education has erased class differences. Because everyone receives the same number of credits, there is no division between rich and poor. Education for all citizens gives citizens common understanding and manners, so there is no longer a cultured or uneducated class. There is a single class of people: citizens.


If I were asked to name the most distinguishing felicity of this age ... it seems to consist in the dignity you have given to labor.

Julian West, Chapter 14

Julian West becomes convinced that giving the same number of credits to every citizen results in equal esteem for the job of every citizen. Work is not valued or devalued as it used to be because the wages were high or low. All work is dignified because it is necessary and contributes to the welfare of the community.


The machine which they direct is ... so logical in its principles and direct and simple in its workings, that it all but runs itself.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 17

Dr. Leete argues that the government structure, although intricate, is perfectly logical in its organization. It has created a system designed to run like a well-oiled machine, to regulate and oversee all of society in such a rational manner that it could almost run itself.


Certainly, an improvement of the species ought to follow such a change.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 21

Dr. Leete argues that society has drastically changed from the 19th century to the 20th, altering the conditions in which people live. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that people themselves would have changed as a result of their new environment. He believes, and Julian West seems convinced, that people have improved not only physically but morally as well. The species is healthier, more honest, and more logical as a whole.


The most patriotic of all possible parties ... sought to ... [make] the native land truly a father land, a father who kept the people alive.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 24

The revolution that gave birth to the nation stemmed from the desire for a government that was more like a father, a nation whose primary concern would be to provide for the needs of its people. Dr. Leete implies that the party behind the revolution was the most patriotic because love of country must mean love and care for the citizens, of which the nation is made.


For the first time in human history ... sexual selection, with its tendency to preserve ... the better types of the race ... has unhindered operation.

Dr. Leete, Chapter 25

Because women receive equal credits as men, they are no longer forced into marriage for financial support. They are free to choose whomever they wish to marry. In this way they operate freely to exercise sexual selection. And women in the new social order take very seriously their responsibility to choose mates who exhibit the best traits because they recognize their role in improving the race.


It was for the first time possible to see what unperverted human nature really was like.

Mr. Barton, Chapter 26

The nation, according to the pseudo-religion of Mr. Barton, is the fertile soil in which humanity can flourish and grow to its full potential. It was not until humanity was removed from the swamp of capitalism and transplanted into a healthy environment that people's true nature could be seen. Unobscured and unhindered by the blight of the old system, humanity is recognized now for its true qualities.

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