Hard Times’ is a social satire which explores the ills of an Industrial Victorian society. What is Dickens trying to teach his readership? Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and wrote ‘Hard Times’ in 1854. Dickens uses his fictitious town in Hard Times to represent the industrialization of England at that time. The industrialisation of Britain was particularly infamous in the Northern area of England, this is where Coketown is situated.
In many ways this did great things for Britain and its economy, there was however a darker side the industrial revolution that consisted of slums, poverty and a monotonous and lifeless existence for many people, such as the ‘hands’ who worked at the machines and in the factories. Although Dickens had the privilege of being sent to school at the age of nine, his learning there was short-lived and he presently went to Marshalsea along with their patriarch. He worked for three years in a blacking factory. It was there where he gained an insight into what was the life of the ‘hands’.
We can clearly see Dickens sympathising with these types of people in his book in the characters Stephen and Rachael. After three years of work he went back to schooling, from his schooling he would have seen the government start to intervene in the education system, making it compulsory, Dickens shows his dislike for this in the second chapter title, ‘murdering the innocents’. After his schooling was complete he became a journalist and thereafter a writer. Here he would have gained views on people like Bounderby and Thomas Gradgrind.
Having had and insight into a high and low class Victorian society Dickens saw the immorality and ignorance of the Industrial revolution and the higher classes. He expressed this throughout his novels, and after releasing ‘Hard Times’, he said that his satire was ‘against those who see figures and averages and nothing else’ Dickens takes a critical view on the industrial revolution, this is illustrated when he divides his book into three, calling each one ‘Sowing’, ‘Reaping’ and ‘Garnering’. All of these terms are agricultural, which is ironic in such an industrial setting.
There is a gradual learning process in all of the characters, especially Gradgrind. For instance , Gradgrind at one point says to Sissy, ‘you are an affectionate, earnest, good – young woman and – and we must make do with that’. This suggests that Gradgrind isn’t quite satisfied with Sissy, he also takes a view that suggests he feels Sissy is inferior to him, as he seems quite patronising. However, nearer the end of the novel Gradgrind says ‘if I see reason to mistrust myself in the past, Louisa, I see no reason to trust myself in the future’.
Here he is very uncertain and this shows his development throughout the novel, as he is no longer so arrogant to believe that he is always right and superior to others, like he is in the first quote. Dickens often shows a battle between facts and imagination. On top of this he also has themes of social division, family issues, politics and poverty. Dickens shows this to the reader to show that narrow-mindedness and believe in that only one thing can bring you happiness in life is incorrect, (utilitarianism).
Gradgrind strongly believes in utilitarianism at the beginning of the book, as does Bounderby, however neither of them seems to take notice in the majority of society; the ‘hands’ live in terrible poverty. Because of Gradgrind’s ignorance and inconsiderateness you immediately sympathise with characters such as Rachael and Stephen. Dickens tries to disprove utilitarianism and Gradgrind’s theory that facts will give everything many times in the book. For example, Sissy’s dad was a horse tamer, so she would have known a good deal more about horses than most people. However, when she is told to describe one she cannot.
However, Bitzer who describes it as ‘quadruped, gramnivourous, forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four – eyeteeth and twelve incisive’. As the novel spins out of control of all of the characters, we can see more clearly the characters that Dickens wants us to feel disconnected from; we feel disengaged with people like Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit as they simply learn nothing throughout the whole of the novel, don’t realise that anything has happened and don’t progress a people at all. This is clearly demonstrated, when the two have an argument at the end of the book.
From this, the reader clearly can confirm that both of them are satirical characters used to ridicule and embarrass the sort of people they would have been in real life. As well as this Bounderby rejects Stephens requests, causing the reader to dislike him even more so. Despite Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit, the rest of the characters, for an allegorical novel, have unexpectedly intricate character foundations. The characters in Hard Times have simplistic characteristics of a character developed for allegorical purposes more caricatures of what they really would be, as well as the elaborate qualities of actual people.
Gradgrind , for instance is described as having a ‘square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for a base’, this is a very exaggerated description so much so that Gradgrind himself seems like a fact. However, these characters think and feel like we do and react to their situations in the same way that most of us would. For example, Rachael stops Stephens wife from committing suicide, even thought the death of her would bring her more of happiness than saving her. These attributes are what give the characters life and allow us to understand and sometimes sympathise with their decisions.
When Louisa questions her father saying ‘how could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable thing that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? ‘, there are a number of techniques used by Dickens to create a state of melancholy distress and to make the reader properly understand what she’s saying. Louisa for one of the first times in the book asks her father questions, all of which are rhetorical, so there is a role reversal which strengthens Louisa’s points.