Study Guide: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy - BookNotes|
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LOOKING BACKWARD: BOOK REVIEW / PLOT NOTES
Julian West informs Doctor Leete that this system of voting seems to
derive from the institutions of higher education in the nineteenth century,
when alumni ran the universities and colleges. Doctor Leete is happy to
learn this fact because historians have not been able to discover the
origin of this practice.
Chapter XVII is one of the more complicated chapters, despite Doctor
Leete’s repeated assurance that “nothing could be simpler.” It describes
the political system that runs the industrial army. Despite the fact that
the population is highly educated, it does not exercise universal voting
rights. Only retired men can vote. (Bellamy has still not addressed women’s
positions in this society). The military metaphor continues with the president
being the general of the army, not too unlike the nineteenth (and twentieth)
century position of the president as commander-in-chief of the armed services.
That evening Doctor Leete and Julian West have another talk. Julian
West is surprised at the early age of retirement. He thinks it seems too
early to put people out of work when they have plenty of good years ahead
of them. Doctor Leete answers that people work only for duty, but they
all look forward to the age of forty five as the best time of their life
because it begins the time of “the higher and larger activities.” If they
are not interested in independent scholarship or art, they can simply
travel and live a leisurely existence. They also discuss the sports of
the twentieth century. The prizes are never monetary. The various guilds
compete against one another with a healthy rivalry.
Chapter XVIII is a very short chapter focusing mostly on leisure in the twentieth
century. The other interesting point, that of the proper age for retirement,
reinforces the differences between the two cultures represented in the
novel. In Doctor Leete’s world, youth and old age are considered in very
different terms from what Julian West is accustomed to. Doctor Leete proposes
age forty five as the time when people are just beginning to reach their
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. 12 May 2008