Study Guide: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy - BookNotes|
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LOOKING BACKWARD: FREE BOOK NOTES
In undergoing his reform, Julian West reveals other aspects of his personality. He is interested in what people think of him. He worries that people of the twentieth century will consider him a barbarian. Yet, he also bravely admits to his own limited thinking once he gains new insight into his complicity in the class system of his own time. He is willing to undergo a great deal of criticism in the interest of furthering people’s knowledge of the nineteenth century and his own knowledge of the advances made by the new society. In this, he is a rational thinker and a willing student of progressive thinking.
Julian West’s character is revealed in his responses to gender issues. In the nineteenth century, he is a man of leisure interested in marrying a woman of leisure. His courtship of Edith Bartlett seems devoted, but not outstanding in any way, despite her great-grand-daughter’s estimation of him as a lover. When he wakes in the twentieth century, he does not even think of his fiancée for quite a while and when he does, he gets over her loss with little grief. In fact, he transfers his affections to Edith Leete within a week. Bellamy was non-romantic in constructing this character. The love affair in
Looking Backward is merely a plot device to make the novel more
interesting. Julian West is attracted to Edith Leete for her tender compassion,
a quality found in many nineteenth-century literary heroines.
Bellamy does not develop the character of Doctor Leete very fully. He
is the twentieth-century rational man and a representative of the glory
of compassion and communal living. He is the kindly patriarch of his family,
giving in to his wife and daughter’s ideas, but maintaining his role as
the head of the family and the main spokesperson for the new century.
Edith Leete is also a fairly flat character. Her rationality and assertiveness
are mentioned as dominant traits, but her truly dominant traits are those
of the nineteenth-century ideal of womanhood: compassion for men, tearful
sentimentality, and a love of material goods.
The plot of Looking Backward is almost nonexistent: it is a novel of ideas. Little action occurs. The hero’s character evolves from that of a man who is ignorant and passively corrupt to one who is enlightened. At the end of the novel, he weeps for his “sin” of complicity within the nineteenth century’s dehumanizing mode of capitalist production. The hero’s path to enlightenment, therefore, gives the novel a plot of ascent. The hero ascends to a new level of enlightenment and looks back on his past with shame and pity. The people of the twentieth century share a similar attitude toward the nineteenth century in general.
There is also the minor plot of the love story between Julian West and Edith Leete. They are united after Edith’s mother reveals her daughter’s identity, which is closely linked with that of Julian’s original fiancée.
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. 09 May 2017