As is shown with Stephen, Dickens clearly wants to promote this idea of the lower classes being simple but honest. The majority of these lower class people in Coketown live in squalor. The descriptions of Coketown itself are bleak and depressing. Dickens was influenced in his descriptions by experience of factory towns and is commenting on the unsanitary conditions in which many people live within these towns. “It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it. ” There are descriptions in the novel clearly meant to highlight this issue, such as bodies being carried down ladders.
The mention of the unattended churches in Coketown is in reference to fading religious beliefs at the time. Also, the descriptions of Coketown demonstrate Dickens hatred of the mechanical anonymity that developed in industrial cities. The people lose their identity and become machines, whilst everything around them works monotonously without imagination. “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. ”
The major theme of the book, the idea of fact versus imagination is obviously related to social issues at the time. Utilitarianism pioneered at around the time of Dickens, by industrialists directly contrasted with Dickens’ own ideas. His very livelihood was threatened by these and hence he brutally mocks them throughout the novel. Gradgrind’s method of teaching in the novel is solely based on facts and imagination and fancy are not just ignored, they are abhorred. Gradgrind looks on them almost as an infectious disease. ” ‘That’s it! You are never to fancy.
‘… ‘Fact, fact, fact! ‘ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact! ‘ repeated Thomas Gradgrind This method of teaching however is the cause of many of the serious problems that develop in Gradgrind’s life. As a result of their upbringing, neither of the Gradgrind children can effectively integrate into society. Tom has little or no understanding of the outside world, is very immature and quickly lands himself in trouble. Louisa also is ill-equipped. She has managed to retain a certain level of imagination but is incapable of expressing herself emotionally.
This suppression of emotions leads her into a dysfunctional marriage and almost causes her to commit adultery. One of the strongest comparisons drawn in the novel, demonstrating the negative effect that Gradgrind’s method has is between Sissy and Bitzer. “But whereas the girl… seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun… the boy was so light eyed and light haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he possessed. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though… he would bleed white.
” We can see from this extract that this lifetime spent indoors has had a serious effect on Bitzer’s physique. Sissy on the other hand, is a picture of health as a result of being allowed to indulge in imagination as a child. Dickens believed that this form of teaching would have far reaching social implications, affecting our physical and mental well-being and this was only one reason for his objections to it. The fact and imagination argument is summed up by Dickens in the idea that without the ability to imagine and speculate, it would be impossible to visualise a better world.
This is clearly a relevant argument as when put under scrutiny, the utilitarianist viewpoint is seriously flawed. Gradgrind’s method is inherently hypocritical. It claims to breed scientists and concentrates only on the factual subjects such as science and maths, but without imagination there would be no scientific progression. Most theories are a result of deep scientific insight coupled with active imagination. If current ideas were not questioned and all science was accepted at face value as fact, science would come to a halt. Most science is also theoretical and therefore not factual by its very nature.
Dickens objections to some areas of utilitarianism however are unfounded. His disgust at the use of statistics to assess the needs of the population is extreme and he offers no viable alternative to their use. It would be impossible to, as he suggests, understand every individual on a personal level in order to judge the needs of society. “As if an astronomical observatory should be made without any windows, and the astronomer should arrange the starry universe solely by pen, ink and paper, so Mr Gradgrind, in his observatory, had no need to cast an eye on the teeming myriads of human beings around him… ”
Dickens does present a very interesting analysis of many issues that were present at the time. Much material is covered relating to many aspects of Victorian society. However, Hard Times is by no means a historical account and Dickens obviously presents these problems from his own point of view. As such one must understand, that while useful, much of the material is biased. Rowan Boyles 12R1 AS English 2002 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Hard Times section. y