Given ten years to reflect on his work, Bellamy was able to expand upon the thoughts and issues of the utopian society in Looking Backward. Equality is not so much a sequel to that novel than it is a continuation. There were questions in Looking Backward that went unanswered and that is where Equality comes up with the answers. For example, the gender gap is one that Bellamy took into account and remedied.
|A photo of Edward Bellamy, |
as seen in the Libary of Congress,
(1889). Source: Wikimedia Commons
In the first novel, a woman’s role in the 20th century is not all that different from their role in the 19th century. The women West meets still dress relatively the same, and they seem to defer to their male counterparts, content in the role of daughter and mother. Bellamy explains this away by describing Letee’s need to make West comfortable in his first few weeks in the year 2000. He had his wife and daughter dress in a similar fashion to that of women in 1887 so that West would not be shocked to discover that women are allowed a more independent lifestyle, one that involves wearing pants and working any job they please.
A further explanation of the banking and work placement system are other issues tackled in Equality. West is allowed to open his own account, and he questions the teller about how the system works without capitalism. In summation, the teller recounts the old capitalist system and how it was designed to trick the consumer into thinking that capitalism and individual freedoms were synonymous, when in fact, the opposite was true. With the new system of the year 2000, many commodities are paid for by the government, like utilities, music, news, theater, postal and electronic communications, and transportation. Because of that, small stipends are awarded each citizen, totaling to around 7,000 dollars a year, enough so that they can still purchase the things that they would wish, like food, clothing, and rent. The new economic system was created under the mindset that “nobody owes anybody, or is owed by anybody, or has any contract with anybody, or any account of any sort with anybody, but is simply beholden to everybody for such kindly regard as his virtues may attract” (34).
The idea of the loss of individual liberty in a Marxist society is addressed and debunked by Bellamy in Equality. For decades, it has been assumed that if a government nationalized the banking and job systems, then that security is the trade people would have made in exchange for their independence.
However, West enters the nationalized workforce and learns that he can choose whichever profession he would like to study, and if that position is not available to him later on, he can transfer to another city where it is available, or make do with a second or third choice in his profession. The government does not assign professions to citizens, rather it assigns what hours each job receives for a day’s work (shorter work hours for more physically demanding jobs, like coal mining), and what pay each worker receives (each worker receives equal pay, be it a doctor or bookkeeper). When people receive different pay for different work, they begin to assume that they are better than others, and that is where class warfare really begins. Human beings that are working, regardless of the job, should be regarded with the same respect that everyone else receives. There are many that would find Bellamy’s Marxist society as distasteful or unnatural, but in retrospect, our Capitalist (not ‘free-market’ society as suggested by the media, but Capitalist) society is the unnatural one, as it fosters poverty, a feudal class system, and creates gods out of the top money-makers.
Bellamy, Edward. Equality. Boston: D. Appleton & Company, 1897. Print.