Edward Bellamy’s Utopian novel Looking Backward was published in 1888. The story is told by Mr. Julian West, a man in his thirties who somehow sleeps without aging at all for 113 years. He wakes up in the year 2000 in Boston, which has become a Utopian society. In the chapters following this strange occurrence, West is thoroughly confused by his situation. He discusses the new society with Dr. Leete, a character whom West met upon awaking in the year 2000. Obviously, being a Utopian novel, Looking Backward has many aspects to it that are purely fantasy, and that are entirely unbelievable when common sense is applied. Just throughout the first nine chapters, there are countless unrealistic occurrences that Bellamy portrays as clear reality. Today, I am answering the question: What is the least believable aspect of the novel so far? To begin, let us take a look at some of the key fantasy aspects of the first nine chapters of the novel.
The beginning of the book takes place in the real-life society of Boston in the year 1887. It is while sleeping in an underground bunker beneath his home that Julian West somehow slept without aging until the year 2000. This is a glaringly obvious unrealistic aspect of the novel, but is explained by Dr. Leete, the owner of the property in which West resided prior to his sleeping for 113 years, whom West meets after waking up in the new Boston, as follows:
Extraordinary, I admit. But given the proper conditions, not improbable nor inconsistent with what we know of the trance state. When complete, as in your case, the vital functions are absolutely suspended, and there is no waste of the tissues. No limit can be set to the possible duration of a trance when the external conditions protect the body from physical injury. This trance of yours is indeed the longest of which there is any positive record, but there is no known reason wherefore, had you not been discovered and had the chamber in which we found you continued intact, you might not have remained in a state of suspended animation till, at the end of indefinite ages, the gradual refrigeration of the earth had destroyed the bodily tissues and set the spirit free.
Being a novel based wholly on fantasy, this occurrence is not too unbelievable when compared to other aspects of the first 9 chapters of Looking Backward. Shortly thereafter, Julian West moved on from this strange anomaly as he learns more about the socialist society in which he wakes up. Boston in the year 2000 is a Utopian society, as Dr. Leete, the “extraordinary host,” explains. The city was immensely different than what it had been like when West had lived before his trance. The differences in society as a whole were even more different. Human nature itself had not changed, explained Dr. Leete. Instead, the “conditions of human life” had simply changed.
Perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of the first portion of Looking Backward would be that, as Leete says, no wars or bloodshed were required to implement the socialist society. The population simply consented to the societal shift. After hearing some about this futuristic society, Mr. West questioned Dr. Leete, saying that there must have been quite a bit of bloodshed for such a societal change to take place. However, Dr. Leete replied to this as follows:
On the contrary. There was absolutely no violence. The change had been long foreseen. Public opinion had become fully ripe for it, and the whole mass of the people was behind it. There was no more possibility of opposing it by force than by argument. On the other hand the popular sentiment toward the great corporations and those identified with them had ceased to be one of bitterness, as they came to realize their necessity as a link, a transition phase, in the evolution of the true industrial system. The most violent foes of the great private monopolies were now forced to recognize how invaluable and indispensable had been their office in educating the people up to the point of assuming control of their own business. Fifty years before, the consolidation of the industries of the country under national control would have seemed a very daring experiment to the most sanguine. But by a series of object lessons, seen and studied by all men, the great corporations had taught the people an entirely new set of ideas on this subject. They had seen for many years syndicates handling revenues greater than those of states, and directing the labors of hundreds of thousands of men with an efficiency and economy unattainable in smaller operations. It had come to be recognized as an axiom
that the larger the business the simpler the principles that can be applied to it; that, as the machine is truer than the hand, so the system, which in a great concern does the work of the master’s eye in a small business, turns out more accurate results. Thus it came about that, thanks to the corporations themselves, when it was proposed that the nation should assume their functions, the suggestion implied nothing which seemed impracticable even
to the timid. To be sure it was a step beyond any yet taken, a broader generalization, but the very fact that the nation would be the sole corporation in the field would, it was seen, relieve the undertaking of many difficulties with which the partial monopolies had contended.
In conclusion, several major aspects of Looking Backward have so far proved to be very unbelievable, including some which I have not mentioned here, and countless minor ones. This is, of course, to be expected, considering the fact that the book is a Utopian novel, taking place 113 years after it was written in the socialist society of Boston in the year 2000. Have you read the novel? What have you found to be unrealistic in it, particularly within the first 3 sections (9 chapters) of it? Be sure to leave your feedback on this topic below. Thank you for reading.