Study Guide: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy - BookNotes|
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LOOKING BACKWARD: LITERATURE NOTES / BOOK SUMMARY
The distribution system of the government also prevents the huge wastes of the old system, since there are no middlemen and very little handling of the products. Next, Doctor Leete numbers the wastes of capitalism in four major areas. First, there is the waste of capitalists’ undertaking enterprises without any clear way of knowing if they will succeed or fail. Second, there are the wastes of competition among capitalists in the same market. Third, there is the waste caused by periodic gluts and crises. Fourth, there is the waste of idle capital and labor. Doctor Leete offers lengthy explanations of each of these four areas.
He is especially interested in explaining the second of these, the wastes caused by competition. He notes that the producers of the nineteenth century worked for their own profit at the expense of the community. If the common good benefited from their machinations, it was only by chance. As often, the capitalists would “increase their private hoards by practices injurious to the general welfare.” All capitalists dreamed of gaining complete control over some necessity of life and then making people pay huge amounts for it. He tells Julian West that people of the twentieth century are always astounded that this was called a system of production, when in fact, it seems more like a system for preventing production.
Doctor Leete explains that part of the cause of the continual ups and downs of the market was the use of money (a representation of actual products) and credit (a representation of money). The empty promises of these two representative systems caused horrible pain and suffering.
Doctor Leete next describes the how the nation can be so wealthy in the twentieth century. Most of it has to do with efficiency. The nation sees clearly where the demand is, and so it never wastes labor in producing products that are not going to be used. It is big enough to hold onto products that are temporarily over-supplied without putting people out of work. This means workers are never idle.
He tells Julian West that he has still not seen the real wealth of the
nation because it is spent mostly on public amusements and aesthetics.
He sums up the philosophy that motivates his society in the following:
“competition, which is the instinct of selfishness, is another word for
dissipation of energy, while combination is the seed of efficient production.”
Perhaps Bellamy waits until Chapter XXII to give such a sweeping critique
of the capitalist system of the nineteenth century in order to keep his
readers with him. First, he has to show all the benefits of this new world
and anticipate some of the basic objections that a nineteenth-century
reader would make. Then he must help the reader to identify with the optimism
of “utopian” thinking before he can launch into a heavy critique of capitalism.
The cornerstone of this critique is, of course, the denunciation of competition.
Cooperation becomes the basis for this society.
That evening, Julian West is enjoying music with Edith Leete. He asks
her about the conversation he heard when he was coming to consciousness
on his first day in the new world. He had heard her make her father promise
not to tell him something. Her father had hesitated and had complied only
after she and her mother both persuaded him. When he brings this topic
up, Edith Leete blushes intensely. She turns up the music and only later
asks him not to ask her or anyone else this question. He agrees, but then
he cannot sleep all night wondering about it. He cannot figure out how
she would know something about him when she had never seen him before
the day of his awakening.
This short chapter continues the light theme of the novel, that which Bellamy
uses to make it seem more like a novel than a political and economic tract.
There is apparently some connection between Edith Leete and Julian West
that precedes their meeting. Bellamy waits to reveal this connection to
create suspense and to hold the reader’s interest.
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. 09 May 2017