The novel Hard Times by Charles Dickens is a fictitious glimpse into the lives of various classes of English people that live in a town named Coketown during the Industrial Revolution. The general culture of Coketown is one of utilitarianism. The school there is run by a man ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature . This man, known as Thomas Gradgrind, is responsible for the extermination of anything fanciful and integration of everything pertinent and factual into the young, pliable minds of Coketown’s children.
The older characters in the book, and especially Mr. Bounderby, are examples of how years of leading a utilitarian life can mold someone into an arrogantly bland and ignorant individual, which I think is one of Dickens main points in the book. There is no doubt that a lifetime of frugal and pragmatic living in a capitalist system can make you wealthy, but at what price does it come? I think that this question is the essence of this book.
In regard to the matter of the seriousness, or realism, of the book, the basis of the previous question must be analyzed through the lenses of logic and reason to deduce the extent to which Hard Times may and may not be taken seriously. In my study of validity relating to historical and sociological environments, I will analyze the situations and personalities portrayed in Hard Times. Why not start at the beginning? In the first few sentences of the book, Mr. Gradgrind makes it clear that “facts alone are wanted in life,” and that everything else is to be “rooted out. ”
The first scene described in the book is of Mr. Gradgrind harshly singling out the assumed newest and least experienced (in terms of the strict principles cherished by the people of Coketown) student among his class and ordering her to describe a horse. Although the girl, Sissy Jupe, has traveled with the circus all of her life, which can be assumed as an entity prone to the utilization of the power and grace of an equestrian compliment, she is tongue-tied when asked of the simple task of describing a horse, because she is very shy in the first place, but has no idea of what is expected of her by this authoritarian terror of a teacher.
Following her bewilderment, the boy Bitzer is asked to comment and gives a textbook, fact heavy definition of a horse that pleases the instructor. This scene demonstrates the seriousness with which the whole utilitarian mindset is undertaken by the teachers in Coketown. The question to be asked is: Should teaching that adheres to the principles of utilitarianism in the strictest manner be taken seriously as something that was commonplace or even in existence at all during the time period of the Industrial Revolution.
With the rise of capitalism in England, I think that it is not unreasonable to assume that the educational model presented in this book could be something that might have existed in some endowed schools fabricated by wealthy businessmen that had benefited greatly by living by the principles of supply and demand economics and wished for that doctrine to be spread throughout society for everyone’s benefit. In this light, I would argue that the educational setting portrayed in this book could have been a reality in places where there were rich, eccentric businessmen.
I do wonder, however, the likelihood of parents actually raising their children as strictly as the Gradgrinds did. I would think that to deprive your child of all things entertaining would be much too extreme for any parent to possibly consider as a doctrine for raising their children by. The man known as Josiah Bounderby of Coketown is a central character within the book whose presence is as important as the notion of the Industrial Revolution itself. Mr. Bounderby represents the capitalist ideology of rags to riches that was surely prevalent during this period of capitalist exploitation.
During the course of the novel, Mr. Bounderby is frequently saying things like: “I hadn’t a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, I didn’t know such a thing by name. I passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. ” Bounderby was not the modest type to say the least. Starting from the bottom to become a successful owner of multiple businesses filled this man with pride and conceit. He definitely lived by the mantra; if I can do it then anyone can. Which of course is false, because not everyone can be the owner of the factory, someone has to man the machinery.
Charles Dickens obviously created this character with a purpose in mind. He wanted to portray the greedy business owner that exploits his employees and that is oblivious to any moral obligation that could be present in an employee/employer relationship. Dickens wanted to show that for capitalism to work most efficiently there must be exploitation on the part of decision makers towards employees. In this book, capitalism is portrayed as the enemy of equality. “Miss Louisa, I said I didn’t know. I thought I couldn’t know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine.
But that had nothing to do with it. It was not in the figures at all. ” This quote from Sissy Jupe demonstrates the prevalent ideology in Coketown of the rationalization of exploitation as sound means for acquiring wealth. Where I find flaw in this book, is in the character of Mr. Bounderby. He illustrates a great contradiction. That is, that he believes everyone has the opportunity to make themselves wealthy, but his success was made possible, or at least greatly assisted, by stepping on the toes of the common factory worker by way of low wages and long hours.
If anyone in this book should see the unrighteous truth about their own iron handed and grinding despotism it should be Mr. Bounderby, for he began his life with nothing and knows the pain of poverty. It would not be rash to say that people who were born into a life of luxury and devilish high society would be find it difficult to relate to the needs of impoverished people and that they would be more likely to have a biased opinion if questioned of the debasement of the common working man.
With this in mind it would only make sense to think that in Mr. Bounderby’s quite opposite circumstance that he would be one to question this oppressing system, not praise it and brag of his success at every given opportunity with an air of superiority. In light of this, I would say that I cannot take the character of Mr. Bounderby seriously, but can only see him as a tool Dickens uses to construct his view of this revolutionary time period. One thing that I really liked in this story was how the Gradgrind children Tom and Louisa represent the idea of rebellion from this strict and orderly society they grew up in.
Mr. Gradgrind was one of the most fact obsessed characters in the story, and it is common knowledge that children raised in a very strict household are prone to rebellion. I would say Tom demonstrates rebellion in a more literal sense, whereas Lousia simply rebels from the way she has been raised to think verbally. This brings the story closer to home and helps you sympathize with the characters, allowing you to take their plight more seriously. The fact that Tom robs the bank and has a fierce gambling habit is so satisfying to me.
If there were no stray from the principles of utilitarianism during this book, then no point would be proven, but the fact that Tom’s behavior went from unethical to illegal clarifies the absurdity of the concept by showing the likely dire results that may ensue from a life of repression. Louisa, being less boisterous, expresses her pent up pain and anger by confronting her father and letting him know how much her factual and drab upbringing has made her suffer and caused her to marry a man whom she does not love, but rather despises.
This, in turn, makes a profound impact on Gradgrind, which makes him question his own beliefs. It seems as though Louisa deals with her emotions much more maturely than her brother did. She has more clout with her father and when she talks to him he listens. This rebellion of the Gradgrind children answers the question of whether the concepts taught in Coketown’s schools can actually be accepted by, and integrated into society.
It seems to be inevitable that people would get fed up with a utilitarian way of life eventually, and in this story it is the Gradgrind children who shoot this rare and extreme bird out of the sky. Dickens seems to create characters whose deviance from normality creates a much richer and entertaining story. But if you are going to look at his work on a realistic level, then you can expect to find flaws in many characters that prevent the reader from feeling a real connection to the story. Often you can watch a movie and read a good book and find yourself thinking like one of the characters.
If you can put yourselves in their shoes, then it becomes more of a learning experience when reading a book. Although the subject of Hard Times is historically based, the direction Dickens takes the novel is that of a soap opera. It is hard to believe in a book that has characters that are much too dogmatic to be considered realistic. They are unbalanced characters. Acknowledging this about the characters Dickens creates, it can be said that his telling of history is most certainly bound to have many exaggerations incorporated for effect.
I believe that this is an excellent technique for fictitious stories with fictitious scenarios, but it is questionable whether it is in good taste to deploy this technique in a book whose implied intent is to act as a portrayal of history. It can give the wrong impression to those readers who have not been previously familiarized with the historical information. Though Dickens attempt at historical fiction leaves questions to be answered about the factual basis of the book, it must be acknowledged that his understanding of human relationships and emotions is impeccable.
Hard Times describes some of the most brilliantly vivid and lively characters that I have ever read about in a book. So, if one is to read the book with the intentions of gaining an understanding of issues pertaining to the English Industrial Revolution, then they are best advised to look elsewhere, but if mixing fact with fiction doesn’t bother you and you want to read an excellent book by one of the greatest authors of the 19th century, then Hard Times is an excellent choice.