Like most Utopias, Edward Bellamy illustrates his ideal society through a light narrative designed to both deliver his point and entertain the reader; in this case, the narrative evolves from suspense (kinda) into, of course, a love story. The tale centers around Julian West, a bourgeoisie-of-sorts from late 19th century society, whose hypnotic sleep leaves him lying peacefully until he is awoken in the year 2000 by a doctor and his family. The plot is obviously not meant to be particularly realistic, but as framework for Bellamy to build his theory upon it serves him quite well.
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The title, "Looking Backward" is derived from the dialogue between the main character and the family that found him, throughout which aspects from the "current" society of the year 2000 are contrasted with that of the past. The dialogue evolves to include Bellamy's theories on economics, production, political agendum and other less defined, though no less well-conceived, philosophies on social direction and operation. I found it most interesting that he was able to foresee the rise of corporations and their monopoly over production and distribution at a time when industrialism was at its infancy.
I could write pages upon pages about the ideas in Looking Backward, but instead I'll just point you to the text itself. As a reviewer, one is always tempted to incorporate their own bias into the review. For instance, I have read reviews of this book that dismiss it for promotion of what later became known as socialism. This is most absurd as such a narrow minded dismissal not only blames a text for the faulty implementation of a faulty system in despotic hands but ignores the intent of the author, which was to illustrate a society based upon unity and equality as opposed to the current system disunity and inequality. I have also read reviews that suggest the book to be 'incomplete' for not elaborating upon the details in which the society of 1887 transformed to the Utopia of 2000. I put forth that such a task should not and cannot be undertaken by an author whose intent is to outline their ideal society, as it is to the rest of us who would see the ideal realized that would need to undertake its practical development and application. The task of all authors is to spread ideas, not necessarily to implement them.
If you are looking for a good story to read, skip this book. The story is pretty weak and the writing is in most instances overly technical at times when simple language would suffice. What makes it the classic that it is are the ideas expounded within the text. The most admirable and practical example of such to me was his views on concerted production, where the extreme wealth of the state is achieved through the industries working together towards a single cause (the wealth of the state, of course) instead of against each other, profiteering from the collapse of their competitors. I also envy the idea, however unattainable it would seem, that since all wages are equal for all citizens, each pursues his vocation solely for the genuine love of the field.
Time and time again while reading through this text, I could not help but pause and ask myself why such a system as described by Bellamy couldn't and doesn't exist. Perhaps it is too unrealistic. Perhaps it is too idealistic. But as I like to think, perhaps it just makes too much sense for such a flawed species to accept.