Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Course Hero, "Looking Backward Study Guide," October 25, 2017, accessed September 29, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/.

Looking Backward | Symbols



The telephone represents a technological advancement of the future that brings people pleasure and convenience, but also isolates them. Citizens of the 20th century have only to turn a knob on the wall or pick up a receiver in their bedroom to hear whatever music they choose at any hour of the day. In the same way, they can hear sermons on Sunday mornings without leaving their homes. It's all delivered over the telephone. While live music played by professionals had once been the privilege of a select few with the means to pay to attend concerts, now all people may pay a small fee for live music performances. Even the sick and dying can enjoy it without leaving home. However, technology such as the telephone also isolates people from each other. Rather than attending a social event like a concert or a church service, citizens of the new nation listen from the privacy of their homes. Because of technology they no longer attend and participate in a communal church service, or chat with friends at a musical performance. They consume items of their choice in isolation. Technology, perhaps as much as the national employment scheme, has altered daily life in Edward Bellamy's utopia.

Julian West

Julian West is a symbol for the original audience of the novel. He is an educated member of 19th-century America. Most readers of the novel at that time would have been much like him. Readers see the future through his eyes, which are much like their own. Julian is surprised by artificial lighting and other technology, just as the readers would be. He describes the city many of them knew well, naming landmarks and describing, with the wonder they would have felt, the changes it has undergone in over a hundred years. Julian serves as a voice for their concerns and objections to the new social order. The author anticipates and addresses the readers' problems with nationalism through Dr. Leete's answers to Julian's questions. It is through the interactions of the two men that Bellamy uses Julian as a representative of the audience whom he seeks to convince of the benefits and feasibility of nationalism.

Julian's Chamber

Julian West's chamber, unearthed after more than a hundred years, is like a time capsule. Like any item of the past, such as a dinosaur or a corpse, it has long been buried and forgotten. As with much of the past, the chamber has been preserved by a sort of accident—the rest of the house is long since gone. In the chamber everything is just as Julian left it when he was put into a trance by Dr. Pillsbury in 1887. Like the past, the chamber is only a curiosity to the Leetes, and in a way, it is useful to Julian to gain perspective and connect to his memories. He visits the chamber a couple of times, using it as a touchstone of his previous life in the 19th century. It contains relics of the past, such as the furniture, newspaper, safe, and securities.

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