‘Hard Times’ was first published in 1854. It was written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) who had a very strong opinion on empiricism. It is set in the nineteenth century at a time when school was not compulsory and child labour was common. ‘Hard Times’ is set in the imaginary city of Coketown, which is an industrial city. ‘Hard Times’ is partly an industrial novel in which the factory system is portrayed in the eyes of the working class people.
It investigates the minds of people who view workers as tools to do a job rather than human beings. It also operates as a critic of certain methods of teaching particularly those that are to do with filling the mind full of fact rather than let them learn while their imagination is free and they are able to have their own thoughts and opinions. Dickens novel attacks those who try to make sense of the world out of facts without any use of imagination. In the factory system, children as young as three would be working down the mines and in factories.
It was not until 1870 that schooling became compulsory and the government took over education and most schools. Empiricism was the movement that began in the eighteenth century that maintained that all knowledge comes from fact and experience. According to empiricism, children are like blank pieces of paper ready to have facts written upon them. Romanticism is a movement that originated in the late eighteenth century and stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom of thought and it was a rebellion against the idea that only fact was needed to see you through life. One of the creators of empiricism was John Locke. Locke was a British Philosopher who was educated at Oxford University in 1690. He wrote a book called ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’. In this book Locke conveyed his ideas about how our identity and personality come from our knowledge of facts.
The opening two chapters introduce the main characters and set the scene. The first chapter is mainly the speaker telling the students of the school where it is set, what they are going to learn and what is needed in life ‘fact’. In the second chapter we meet Sissy Jupe daughter of Signor Jupe, a member of the circus. We are also introduced to Mr M’choakumchild, Mr Grabgrind a retired hardware merchant, who owns the school and Bitzer a student in the school.
There is also a government officer present. The second chapter is set in a classroom with sunlight coming in through the window. Mr Grabgrind asks Sissy to give her definition of a horse. However she does not answer so Mr Grabgrind asks Bitzer instead and he gives a purely factual answer. Then Mr Grabgrind gives the children a test on factual living in which he asks, “Would you paper a room with the representations of horses”? And “Suppose you were going to carpet a room would you use a carpet having representations of flowers upon it”?
The ‘correct’ answer was no for both because in real life or fact would you see horses on walls of buildings or flowers on the floors indoors that don’t wilt or get crushed when trod on? For the rest of the chapter Mr M’choakumchild takes the lesson. In ‘Hard Times’ Dickens uses a lots of different types of language. He uses repetition, extended metaphors, multiple adjectives, archaic language and personification. Quite a lot of repetition is used; the word ‘fact’ is repeated. This helps to emphasise that fact is the only thing considered important. The word square is repeated when describing the speaker I think this is because the square is a hard, sharp and unforgiving shape, unlike a circle for example which is round and smooth and would make it inappropriate for describing a character like the speaker. Extended metaphors are used quite a lot in describing the speaker, for example:
“The speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse room for the hard facts stored inside.” Here is another example describing children:- “All backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.”
I think the mention of ‘warehouse room’ is a reference to industrialisation. This gives the reader a good mental picture of what the speaker’s head would look like. Multiple adjectives are used to emphasise points. Here is a quotation from the first chapter: “The speakers mouth, which was wide, thin and hard set” This extract is used to describe the speaker’s mouth; the adjectives are “wide”, “thin” and “hard”. As ‘Hard Times’ was written in 1854 it contains quite a lot of language that is no longer in use today like “pugilist”, “peremptorily” and “quadruped”. There is also quite a lot of technical language that is not in common usage today e.g. “orthography” and “etymology”
Personification is not used very often in the opening two chapters because personification uses a lot of imagination and imagination has no place in the school. The only example of personification I could find in the chapters was: “His very neck cloth trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp” This refers to the speaker and how his tie looks like it is strangling and choking him, like he is doing to the children’s imaginations.
The name of each chapter and the first book come from extracts from different part of the bible. “Book the first. Sowing” refers to Galatians 6:7, the bible extract is: “For what ever a man soweth, that he shall also reap” This establishes a religious link. I think Dickens is implying that God is on the side of the romanticists not the empiricist. Chapter one is called “The one thing needful”. This comes from Luke 10:42 “but only one thing needed, Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her”. This reference underlines the important of listening to wisdom and that it is more important than leading an active life. Chapter two “murdering the innocents” comes from Matthew 2:16.