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Bellamy: Looking Backward on the Puritans and Western Frontier

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  1. Introduction
  2. Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward
  3. Puritans and Western Frontier
  4. Analysis
  5. Conclusion

Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward is a reflection of man's indictment of 19th century industrial society upon his recent insight into a 20th century new world order. This new world order is the product of social and political evolution. Through its technological advancement, efficiency, rationality, and pragmatism, this utopia reflects the solutions to the evils of capitalism that have plagued mankind throughout the ages. Despite this evolution of human nature, Bellamy's utopia is not only fallacious, but also unattainable based on the premises that 19th century capitalist tendencies are still present in his utopian society; that is, its citizens are still searching for praise and adulation, personal gain, and encounter the trials that accompany scientific progress. Both Puritanism and the American western frontier ideology will provide the criteria in which to analyze Bellamy's 20th century socialist society.

Throughout the novel, Bellamy emphasizes the idea that no one form of work is any more dignified than another type of work. He observes that all vocations make an equal contribution to society. Yet, he still incentives and rewards those who display a unique ability for a certain trade; he rewards them with the freedom to choose their area of specialty. He states, ?One of the notable advantages of a high grading is the privilege it gives the worker in electing which of the various branches or processes of his industry he will follow as his specialty? (60). Moreover, if these individuals continue to illustrate traits of excellence they may then be awarded a red ribbon. Only a minority of individuals possesses a red ribbon at any one time and Bellamy notes that, ??every bright young fellow in the country loses innumerable nights' sleep dreaming of it. I even did myself" (80). It earns one the praise and adulation of the people. In this sense, it appears that ribbons have merely replaced the monetary profit that accompanies fame and success in a capitalist society. However, inherent in the desire and ambition of being awarded a red ribbon is self-interest, which is inextricably tied with greed. While this is not Bellamy's intention, such a system resonates strongly with both the Puritan and western frontier ideologies in that it reimburses innovation, ingenuity, and excellence.

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