History 12 Reading Guide

Utopian Visions in Fiction

Document:

  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888).

Further reading:

  • Howard P. Segal, "From Utopian Communities to Utopian Writings: A Change in Form and Purpose," Communal Societies 3 (1983), 93-100.

Questions:

Note: Writing as Julian West in the Preface to Looking Backward, Bellamy explained that "the author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative," (2). In other words, Bellamy wrote a book that proposed a social vision of the future (primarily through the extended conversations between Dr. Leete and West) while masquerading as romantic fiction.

  • What was Bellamy's utopian vision?  In what ways did he describe a new future?  What aspects of society in 1888 did Bellamy attempt and intend to maintain?
  • What kind of economy, polity, and society did he design?  What problems of the late nineteenth century industrial and social systems did his new system correct?
  • What values did he emphasize?
  • How had the evolution of society (Boston) occurred?  How had the utopian vision been achieved?  How clearly did Bellamy describe the process?
  • What were the limits of Bellamy's social vision of the future?  What possible changes did he not consider, or could he not imagine?
  • In what ways was Bellamy's experience and perspective about American society and its problems similar to Nordhoff's?  What concerns did they share as they considered communistic, cooperative, or utopian alternatives to the present in which they lived in the mid to late nineteenth century?  Where did their perspectives differ?