Facts and Fancy in Hard Times by Charles Dickens





Facts and Fancy in Hard Times by Charles Dickens

In the novel Hard Times, Dickens introduces a way to revolt against the humiliating effects that occurred during the Industrial Revolution through writing a novel about the lives of the ordinary people. The author also realizes that people had an urge for fancy and fantasy through reading novels and books, or by attending theaters to watch plays. This novel is centered on the notion of that there is more in life than the unadulterated facts to depend on. The novel is also about the societal divisions that existed during the Victorian era between the capitalists who owned mills and the workers who were undervalued and oppressed. It is further filled with dissimilarities and features a varied cast of characters. Dickens describes the occurrences mainly from the rural regions, and also teachers and bankers of the time. The characters in the novel have diverse characteristics as some are poor or rich, they speak in dialect or Standard English, and others are honest or dishonest. In this sense, the novel generally contrasts these characters and their differences in society, as well as their different relationships and the power disparity within each relationship.

The major characters in the novel are Josiah Bounderby and Thomas Gradgrind. Their roles are different, but they are coerced to communicate with each other and this brings out the main conflict and theme of the novel. Thus, the philosophy of facts is what the two individuals both believe in but in different ways (Jordan 18). They also contrast in their opinion about education. Bounderby supports the notion that education is To be tumbled out of doors, neck and crop, and put upon the shortest allowance of everything except blows (Dickens 320). On the other hand Gradgrind supports the teaching of reason and fact, which is contrary to Bounderbys opinion. When Gradgrind argues his opinion to Bounderby, he posits that: I doubt whether I have understood Louisa. I doubt whether I have been quite right in the manner of her education (Dickens 320). It can be seen that the emphasis on schooling cannot be evaded. This connection of mill turns and classrooms turns out to be the authors most compelling ways of creating his sense of the English civilization into an intelligible and multi-faceted image. Both town and school were controlled, or owned by the same masters, whom were obsessively eager to attempt out on the people the theoretical social systems which they had founded on the strict principles of Utilitarianism.

The plot of the novel takes place in the setting of Coketown, a 19th century fictional town based in England. The term coke refers to the treated coke that was then used to power the engines in factories during the Industrial Revolution. Coketown, as described by the author, is a town that is full of pollution from the industries. It is describe as follows in the first section of the novel: It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage (Dickens 28). During that era in England, the debasing industries were located in the middle and northern part of the country, a place where most of the poor lived in deplorable conditions. The industrial workers were mistreated and dehumanized as they were offered wages that could only keep them alive. They were overworked at the factories and their working hours were constantly being extended to the extremes. This fact is evident in this passage: The measured motion of their shadows on the walls, was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whirr of shafts and wheels (Dickens 148).

Coketown is described as being like a huge jail that contained several large streets that are similar to each other, and numerous small streets that also look alike. The author describes Coketown by stating: It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next (Dickens 28). This description depicts the devastating life that the poor lived, which certainly did not have any fancy and diversity. The novel also contains metaphors that describe this town. As the author assumes, the people during that era must be alike because they live in streets that look alike. In this case, metonymy functions with the linguistic indistinctness of dead metaphor.

Thomas Gradgrind is the first character that the author introduces. The emphasis on his major physical traits: square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base The emphasis was helped by the speakers voice, which was inflexible, dry and dictorial (Dickens 1). At the beginning of the novel, this character is depicted talking to the pupils and he exemplifies the solid facts with which he intends to instill in them. Gradgrind can be described as being commanding when addressing Mr. MChoakamuchild, the teacher. From the onset, it is evident that Gradgrind is a Utilitarian theorist and his viewpoint is that the human nature can be governed through the use of rules. Prior to becoming a Member of Parliament, he had been in the hardware business, and now he is a schoolmaster at his private school located in Coketown. Utilitarianism was a method that was used to govern the society. It implied that life should be lived in adherence to facts and logic, and not feelings or intuition (Jordan 21). This theory dictates that people decide on the basis of what is of the greatest good for them. However, in this novel, the author gives the lie to the principle of Utilitarianism that the pursuit of personal fortune is of benefit to the society at large.

The pupils are addressed as members in the chapter Murdering the innocents (Dickens 3). Gradgrind then poses a question to Sissy Jupe, pupil number twenty, to factually define a horse. This pupil is the daughter of Slearys circus clown and to her astonishment and consternation, she is unable to answer the question she is asked. However, when a dedicated pupil of Gradgrinds philosophy of facts is asked a similar question, he gives an accurate description of a horse. He states: Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive Age known by marks in the mouth (Dickens 6). As it can be noted, this is a good instance of Utilitarian theory education. Notably, Gradgrind is a Utilitarian who vests his beliefs in facts and that the individual needs them flourish. Therefore, this instance illustrates that Gradgrind has managed to teach what the facts essentially are.

The author mocks the Utilitarian logic when he describes the education of a government officer at Mr. MChoakumchilds school. Dickens posits: a professed pugilist ready to fight all England. He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense, and render that unlucky adversary deaf to the call of time. And he had it in charge from high authority to bring about the great public-office Millennium, when Commissioners should reign upon earth (Dickens 6-7). The author is opposed to the Utilitarian kind of education in England and he makes a point in his novel. The writers aim is to bring the public to the realization of the negative sides of the Utilitarian education system, since he felt that logic and facts were not appropriate without the involvement of fancy. As such, Gradgrinds command not to educate the children anything other than facts amounts to negative consequences. The Utilitarian believers considered universal education a significant requirement for achieving the greatest happiness for the benefit of the majority (Jordan 42).

Dickens is giving a description of Englands education system in the novel and Mr. MChoakumchild is depicted as its representative. Thus, the authors main concern is education and he goes on to introduce its failure in the novel. Gradgrind is married and he has five children: Tom, Louisa, Malthus, Jane, and Adam Smith. The author states: and they were models every one. They had been lectured at, from their tenderest years; coursed, like little hares. Almost as soon as they could run alone, they had been made to run to the lecture-room (Dickens 11). Thomas Gradgrind raised his children with the purpose that they would later succeed in life, and to ensure so he held that Utilitarian system of education was the best way. He commences the teachings of the Utilitarian philosophy to his children when they were still at a tender age when their souls were empty. Nonetheless, Louisa feels that there something is amiss when she tells her father What do I know, father … of tastes and fancies; of aspirations and affections; of all that part of my nature in which such light things might have been nourished? (Dickens 134).

Dickens ridicules the Victorian era education as he often employs sarcasm and irony in an attempt to uncover or attack what he alludes his thoughts on what is immoral. In the classroom, the pupils are taught under stern order and the aim of education is to learn logic and facts. The pupils are not permitted to use their imagination (Jordan 48). Gradgrind presents a Utilitarian view of education that is meant to censor anything that goes contrary to the principles of teaching pure facts. He later acknowledges that this was a failure on his part because Tom and Louisa both become unhappy and do not succeed in life. Gradgrinds wife does not like it when Louisa wonders. She overhears her telling Tom, her brother: Thomas, it is really shameful that a boy brought up as you have been, should be found encouraging his sister to wonder, when he knows his father has expressly said that she is not to do it (Dickens 70). Mrs. Gradgrind gets angry and wishes that she never had a family so that her children would have known what it was to be without her. Grandgrind, on the other hand, is constantly away from his family attending to his parliamentary duties. Hence, the upbringing of the children is solely in her hands, but she does not fulfill her duties all the time as she is a sickly woman.

In conclusion, the novel Hard Times describes the 19th century Industrial Revolution. It is also about the people that have undergone immense suffering of different fates in Coketown. The populace is both rich and poor and the authors approach is to examine the peoples lifestyle. This novel further describes how the Utilitarian philosophy is utilized to crush the facts and to rule out imagination and fancy in peoples lives and how the consequences are both damaging and unsatisfactory. Dickens concludes the novel by telling the readers that it is up to him if the novel is relevant. The author is aware of how each character unfolds, and he describes how their demeanor has consequences. At the end, the characters future is made clear and the author further reinforces that their actions will influence their fate. It can be concluded that Dickens succeeds in depicting how the society was during the Victorian era by bringing out the negative side of the Utilitarian philosophy that was the notion of the rich.


Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print

Jordan, John O. The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

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