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Why was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward popular with the middle class?

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Looking Backward, a utopic novel about life in the United States in the year 2000, was published in 1888. This was period that might be described as the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow words from Charles Dickens. It was period of rapid growth and industrialization in the United States, with growing wealth and rising incomes. It was a period of extreme optimism in this country, as people began to realize, both here and in England (which was then the world power), that the twentieth century was going to be the "American century." The U.S., in other words, was the vigorous rising world power.

At the same time, many of the problems associated with capitalism had not been solved. There was great wealth inequality, and the average person had few rights or protections. There was no social security, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, child labor laws, or workman's compensation. Further, the 1880s were bookended by two economic slumps, one in the 1870s and one in the 1890s.

This mix of optimism that the world could be made a better place and the evident reality that the world needed to be made a better place fueled the middle class popularity of this novel—and middle class sales were necessary to catapult a book to the bestseller list, as working class people had fewer resources for book buying and lower rates of literacy, especially with the influx of immigrants in the late nineteenth century.

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Bellamy's future world of 2000 has done away with war and crime. Crime was very much on the mind of the middle class as they were often victims. Bellamy's world also mentions new inventions. At the time of Bellamy's writing, the United States was giving out various patents for labor-saving devices. The middle class could afford the inventions of the day and they would have been among the first to take advantage of new devices.

Most importantly, Bellamy's future involves state-owned communication and production facilities. While the middle class had it better than the poor, their economic futures were not quite set. One injury or a factory closure could lead to ruin for the family. Through government takeover, this would hopefully be averted. The middle class viewed Bellamy's future as quite Utopian in that it did away with violence and promoted the prosperity for all. The middle class would have also been in favor of this view as they had the money and leisure time with which to read the book.

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I think that Bellamy's work was so popular with the middle class for a couple of reasons.  The first was that the world that Bellamy's future depicts is something so very far off from what reality offered in the America of the late 19th Century.  The lack of jails and free access to public education for all are realities that are so divergent from the current configuration of American society at the time.  In this, I think that some level of resonance with the middle class in the time period, a group that was so marginalized and pressured with the economic and social constraints of the time period.  At the same time, the world of the future where there is little in way of social stratification and an more egalitarian point of view is something that is attractive to a group of people at the time period that found nothing but stratification.  Bellamy's vision of a world in the future that is so much more desirable than what is present is another reason why there is so much embrace of his narrative by the middle class.  The idea of projection of a future radically different and improved, by the standards of the middle class, is something that proves to be quite compelling for middle class people of the time period.

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