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LOOKING BACKWARD: 2000 - 1887 - CHAPTER SUMMARY / BOOK REVIEW
On their way to the store, the characters discuss the method of shopping in the nineteenth century. Edith Leete cannot understand how people used to put up with the waste of time resulting from too many shops specializing in the same thing. If a shopper had a great deal of time, she (the shopper here is gendered feminine by Bellamy) could have gone from shop to shop comparing merchandise before making an intelligent decision about the best product and the best price. Julian West says women of the leisure class liked to waste time in this way because they did not have anything better to do. However, he agrees that the competition of so many small stores led to a waste of energy.
When they arrive at the store of the district in which the Leetes live, Julian West notices that the store appears very different from the stores of his time. There are no window displays and the only indication of the function of the building is a statue of a woman holding a horn of plenty. Inside, he notices the elegant design and the human-friendly setting. Edith Leete looks at some cloth. He notices that no clerk comes to help her with it or to urge her to buy something. She tells him how shopping is done. A card on the merchandise describes all that the customer needs to know about it. The clerk only fills out the order. The store is actually just a sample store. The order is sent through a pneumonic tube to a central warehouse. It is then delivered to the customer’s house. Each store carries exactly the same products. Country shoppers are somewhat disadvantaged because they have to wait slightly longer to receive their orders at home.
Julian West exclaims over the savings in energy this system presents. In his own time, he tells her, the manufacturer sold to the wholesaler, who then sold to the retailer, who in turn sold to the customer. In addition, since the clerks at each store had to service the customers and handle the goods, it would take ten clerks to perform what one does in Edith’s store. Edith Leete tells him of the operation of the central warehouse, where everything is mechanized, and as she says, “perfect.”
As they walk home, he comments on the variety of houses, which indicates to him different levels of income. Edith Leete explains that people spend their share of income according to their needs and desires. Some like bigger houses and some like nicer clothes. He tells her of the practice during his time of keeping up houses that were beyond one’s means in order to impress the neighbors. She notes that since everyone’s income is known, this could never happen in her time. Everyone here knows that “what is spent one way must be saved another.”
The efficiency of the utopian Boston of the twentieth century is further praised, while the waste of the nineteenth-century system is critiqued. One of Bellamy’s primary rhetorical goals is to destroy the notion of competition as the way to make the system lean and efficient. Under such a system, everyone is competing, instead of cooperating, and the citizen ultimately loses time--and sometimes money. Bellamy proposes the opposite scenario for his utopia, one of cooperation and mutual benefit. He is also careful to make this world seem flexible. People can spend their money as they wish. They do not have to wear uniforms or live in institutional houses.
When they arrive back at the Leete house, Edith Leete shows Julian West the music room. She explains that four orchestras are playing in the city continuously, and their music is piped into the homes of all the citizens who pay for the service. The quality of the music astonishes Julian West. He learns that he can listen to music in his bedroom as well. They agree that the obstacles to listening to good music in the nineteenth century were atrocious. If they were not wealthy, people had to put up with all kinds of problems to hear a piece of music they liked. They resorted to learning to play music themselves, but since they were amateurs, they rarely got to enjoy very good music.
That evening they discuss their day with Doctor Leete. The subject of the inheritance of property comes up. Julian West assumes that inheritance is outlawed by the government, but Doctor Leete assures him that there is far less interference in the lives of citizens by the government of the twentieth century than there was by the nineteenth-century government. The only fundamental law is that everyone should serve the nation for a fixed period. Doctor Leete adds that this law is really only a codification of the law of nature or of Eden. He says that the system requires little legislation, since it is “the logical outcome of the operation f human nature under rational conditions.”
Doctor Leete illustrates this point with the question of inheritance. While it is not outlawed, it is also not desirable, since acquired possessions can become a burden. The heir cannot sell them. They are useful only if they can be enjoyed. If there are too many or they are too cumbersome, the heir has to hire someone to take care of them or buy an extra house for storing them. Therefore, most people waive their claim to the possessions of deceased loved ones. The government takes them and puts them back into the common stock.
Julian West asks about the idea of servants in the utopia of the twentieth century. Doctor Leete says there is not much use for servants in the household since cooking, sewing, and laundry is done outside the home. Doctor Leete says that since people of the nineteenth century used the poor to do all their tasks, they did not spend time finding ways to lighten the load. Now, it is in the interest of everyone to find labor-saving devices in the home. As a result, it is very easy to maintain a house. If a family needs extraordinary cleaning done, they obtain the services of the industrial force with the use of their card.
Julian West exclaims over the paradise this society seems to be for women. Doctor Leete adds that the misery of women arose out of the “incapacity for cooperation which followed from the individualism on which your social system was founded, from your inability to perceive that you could make ten times more profit out of your fellow men by uniting with them than by contending with them.”
Julian West’s next question has to do with doctors. He wonders if a person has to accept any doctor who is sent. Doctor Leete acknowledges that medicine is most effective when doctors know their patients well, and says that a patient can call on a specific doctor. Julian West assumes that since medical fees are always the same, most people would choose the superior doctors, and the bad doctors would have very little work. Doctor Leete assures him there are no bad doctors because the examinations in the medical schools are so rigorous. In this time, doctors do not compete with each other for clients. They also have to report regularly to a medical bureau, and if a doctor does not have enough patients, work will be found for him.
This chapter has more to do with the conveniences of life in this utopia than the workings of the economy. Music, one of the chief joys of life, is plentiful and superior in quality. In other words, it is available to the masses. Household labor is almost nonexistent, in that there is no special class of people (servants or women) who devote most their lives to it. Medical attention is both expert and personal; the medical field is free from corruption.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version