Looking Ahead: An opinion piece by Mabel Dodge


Dublin Core


Looking Ahead: An opinion piece by Mabel Dodge


Art, Modernism, and Bohemia


Dodge’s Pedestal of Privilege

From Dodge’s work in the “Cult of the Orgasm” to her involvement with both radical socialist and anarchist factions of the labor reform movement with leaders like John Reed, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Big Bill Haywood, it is clear that Dodge is the common thread of counterculture in Greenwich Village 1913. Despite being at the core of it all, Dodge’s high society upbringing separates her from the majority of her peers. Dodge struggles to fully understand her own privileged place in counterculture. Dodge was able to work to support and promote radical ideas because she was safe. Dodge lived under the protection of an endless cache of connection and old money ties from Buffalo, New York, while most of her peers’ work put their freedom and lives in danger. Especially as nationalistic tendencies rose and America contemplated involvement in World War One, to exist in counterculture became more and more risky. For Dodge, her protection did not waver. Dodge’s high class meant that she could promote and distribute the work of radicals. Without Dodge, a lot of artistic and political idols like Gertrude Stein and Hutch Hapgood might not have been able to produce the same amount or have the same connection to mainstream culture. Though Dodge is important to Bohemia, it is crucial to analyze where her own bias exists. Her piece “Looking Ahead” conveys her conviction to the spirit of new and her lack of understanding about the dangers of being against the system when unprotected by wealth and class status.

The language Dodge uses to describe the past is well-intentioned, but still somewhat colonialist and racist. Dodge addresses the people of the past, likely talking about pre-colonization, as “savages” and refers to “jungles” as the setting. Though Dodge is not knowingly evoking racist language, her depiction of pre-colonial society as inferior illustrates her Eurocentric mindset. To deem European based culture as the “correct” place for humanity conveys that though Dodge worked to destroy prejudice and create new thought, she was still influenced by a culture that was still extremely biased and based on racial discrimination. It is ironic that she depicts the people of the past as “savages” because she would eventually leave higher society to live among the same people she is demeaning in this article, the Native Americans of New Mexico.

Though Dodge’s “Looking Ahead” is meant to inspire and evoke the spirit of the new, Dodge displays her ignorance of the dangers her peers face simply by existing in counterculture. Dodge’s piece shows that she does not understand how safety and freedom were complicated by factors of class and race. Dodge writes, “You don't have to think of saving your life from the enemies behind you nowadays. The world is safe to live in.” In Dodge’s own experience, this is true. For Dodge, the world is safe to live in. But this statement illustrates that Dodge is not even fully aware of the immediate threat radical notions pose on the freedom of her peers. Margaret Sanger, for example, was arrested and taken to jail at gun point. Emma Goldman was deported to her native country of Russia. For most, the world as a member of counterculture was not safe to live in. With the eventual passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, most of the work of the radicals of Greenwich Village became punishable by law under the pretense that their ideas opposed the government. Dodge could easily speak of safety behind a wall of wealth. “Looking Ahead” is important in understanding that Dodge herself did not always completely grasp her own privilege.

Dodge describes people who are more guarded as something to be “understood and pitied.” Though Dodge does want fearful individuals to be “understood,” she still continues to insist that people not fear speaking their mind. This insistence conveys that she does not understand the reality of the danger that the majority of her Bohemian peers face. Dodge saying they should be “pitied” demeans people who are not as privileged as her to be able to speak their mind and promote their radical beliefs without fear.

Dodge’s final remarks are meant to be encouraging as she says, “Give the whole of yourself to what is ahead of you: to what you want to bring to light. This is the modern way of being.” Though “Looking Forward” is positive in that Dodge is trying to inspire others to make their voices heard, the piece also blatantly displays Dodge’s own biased perspective as both a Bohemian and a high-society heiress. It is important to note as well that Mabel Dodge’s intellectual journey is not over in Greenwich Village and cannot be fully understood by one opinion article. Rudnick explains, “Mabel Ganson grew up in the high noon of the Gilded Age had only the remotest awareness of this “other America” that would become one of her focal points” (251). Dodge herself had only recently begun to leave the comfort of high art and high society, so her privileged tone and lack of awareness also are only part of her journey toward understanding her own advantages in life.

Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 251-252). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.


Mabel Dodge


Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection


Beinecke Library


Ca. 1913


Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection






Opinion Piece and Advertisement

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Mabel Dodge Writes About Looking Ahead

There was a time when it was necessary for a man to look out for what was going on behind his back.

That was back in the time he was a savage.

He had to worry about what the other savages were thinking about him in order to preserve his life from them, and he had to keep an eye on what was going on behind him because the wild animals of the jungles and woods were after him.


You don't have to think in this way any more. You don't have to think of saving your life from the enemies behind you nowadays. The world is safe to live in.

So with your life in your own hands you can look ahead and live forward.

You don't need to think of what is going on behind your back once you life is safe.

If you are doing something you believe in-- go ahead and do it. Make a plan and carry it out.

Don't waste your good time troubling about what people are saying about you, or whether there are plots against you or your work. Don't wonder whether people are critical of you or your achievements.

If you have something to do, it needs all your attention. If you turn any part of your attention to what is going on behind your back you take it away from your work in hand.

Look ahead! No weapons are seeking you! And no words can harm you.

I know that regarding the safety of one's endeavor some people think that "forearmed is forewarned," and that knowing the worst is being forewarned. But I do not agree with this. I do not mean that one should stand still and stick one's head in the sand like an ostrich. No, I mean that if you look ahead and carry out your life, or plan your life successfully, criticism will take care of itself. Nothing dispells criticism like success!

Looking to see what is going on behind your back is regressive, old-time precaution that isn't necessary any more.

Of course, there are always some people who are afraid. These people are to be understand, and pitied.

They are still in the jungle nursery. They don't realize that life is safe.

When these people come into a crowded dining room they always look for a table near the window (an escape) or one at the side.

They do not sit out in the open-- unprotected on all sides. It makes them very uncomfortable. They prefer, above all, a table against the wall.

These people are always in the protective coloring of civilization. They are propitiatory. They try in ingratiate themselves with smiles and deprecating manners. And this makes them seem cringing.

Or else they are on the defensive, and this makes them noisy! They seem to be shouting "Boo!" to an invisible enemy.

Too bad on cannot reassure them and put them at ease and say:

"Don't be afraid! No one can harm you. You are safe."


Of course if you have done something wrong, which usually means something that is harmful to someone, you are afraid of being found out.

You are afraid some one will come up behind you and say: "I've caught you." Naturally.

But you are neither a child with the jungle psychology still guiding you, not have you done anything that you are afraid to have found out. So why are you concerning yourself with that may be happening behind you back?

Give the whole of yourself to what is ahead of you: to what you want to bring to light. This is the modern way of being "on guard!"

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