Study Guide: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy - BookNotes|
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Julian West wonders about state governments. Doctor Leete says they
have been abolished, central government being more efficient and logical,
but that municipal governments are still intact. Julian West wonders how
they get legislation passed when their congress meets only once every
five years. He finds out that this society has almost no legislation,
since the “fundamental principles on which the society is founded settle
for all time the strifes and misunderstandings” which called for legislation
in the nineteenth century. Since the laws of Julian West’s time were set
up mainly to protect private property and the relations between buyers
and sellers, the disappearance of these entities makes such laws obsolete.
Doctor Leete compares the structure of nineteenth-century society to an
upside down pyramid. It was always threatening to fall over, and the only
way to maintain it was with all kinds of props, like laws. Now society
rests on its base and does not need artificial supports.
Like most utopias ever envisioned, this one has no lawyers. Moreover, it has very few laws and no prisons. Since the society is supposedly formed on the principles of reason and common sense, it does not require the correctives of laws and prisons.
Crime is treated as an illness: this notion actually developed in the
nineteenth century in response to the rise of psychology and the theories
of Freud (1856-1939). However, Bellamy asserts that socio-economic reasons
are at the base of much criminal behavior. These evils can be corrected
by restructuring society and educating the masses.
Edith Leete asks Julian West if he has thought about visiting the underground
vault where he had slept all those years. He tells her he has avoided
it for fear of arousing painful feelings, but now he feels strong enough
to do so. When they go down to the room, he is amazed at how removed he
feels from his former life. He feels as if he has actually lived all these
years and that time has healed the wounds of his departure. When Edith
asks him about his family and friends, he tells her about Edith Bartlett
and weeps. Edith Leete weeps with him. When he recovers, she tells him
to remember that Edith Bartlett wept for his death over a hundred years
ago and that she has been in heaven now for years. He feels comforted
by this and is again amazed at how removed he feels from his former feelings
for Edith Bartlett. As they are leaving the room, he notices his safe
and exclaims over how odd it is that all the money and gold in his safe
would not buy him even a loaf of bread now.
Bellamy finally addresses the separation of Julian West and his former fiancée, Edith Bartlett. In the novel’s time (and the time of Julian’s consciousness), it has been only a few days since he last saw her. Nevertheless, having built up the tenderness of their relationship at the novel’s opening, it is striking that Bellamy does not return to it until this late point in the novel.
In this chapter, as in earlier ones, the subject of religious belief is referred
to only in passing, as if the assumption of belief is never questioned
and is in no way part of the changes in society. Readers may think this
is a strange omission because Bellamy relies on some of Marx’s theories
in constructing this “communal” state. The reader may recall Marx’s famous
line, “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” but Bellamy does not portray
religion in a negative light. However, most regimes that have embraced
Marx’s philosophy have been hostile to religion.
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