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    Dickens calls his novel Hard Times Essay

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    “Dickens calls his novel Hard Times. How does Dickens communicate a sense of the hard times which the working classes experienced due to industrialisation and Victorian attitudes to education? In your answer you should consider how Dickens uses characterisation and language to explore his themes.” During the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, there was a mass rise in employment as a large number of heavy industrial factories were established all over cities. This resulted in widespread pollution and appalling overall working conditions, which are the ‘hard times’ that Dickens tries to express through characterisation and language in his novel.

    In doing this, Dickens is criticising the pursuit of Bentham’s doctrine of utilitarianism in his contemporary society. Utilitarianism is the concept that “the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct” and that “what the majority agrees to is correct” (Bentham 1748-1832). Dickens argues, however, that this ideal is highly immoral as the working masses are subjected to such ‘hard times’ whilst the rich simply enjoy their own wealth. Dickens identifies the application of these corrupt beliefs in the Victorian attitudes to education as a fundamental part of the problem. Dickens effectively illustrates the hard times experienced by the working classes due to industrialisation and the flaws in Victorian attitudes to education in his use of characterisation and language.

    In “Hard Times”, Dickens expresses the difficulties experienced by the working class in showing their lack of individuality as a result of industrialisation. The workers are described as “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.” Dickens uses alliteration and repetition here – “same hours…same sound” – to express the dullness of the workers’ tedious routines and emphasise their lack of individuality. Furthermore, he characterises the workers by describing them as being like clockwork machines; slaves to their factories, with no hint of personality. Dickens replicates this lack of individuality in the school, in an effort to show the effects of industrialisation on Victorian attitudes to education.

    The individuality of the working class children was being purposefully eroded in school, in an effort to raise the children as factory workers; nothing more than another cog in the industrial machine of society. This is demonstrated as the students are robbed of their names and referred to by numbers, such as “Girl number twenty”, and is not allowed to be called by their ‘pet’ names, which are indeed representations of unique personalities: “Sissy is not a name,” said Mr. Gradgrind. “Don’t call yourself  Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.”

    Dickens exposes here his criticism of utilitarianism – the belief that “what the majority agree to is correct” – as immoral. It is untrue that these school children have agreed to becoming factory workers; the reality is that they are brainwashed into becoming monotonous creatures who know no better than to pursue jobs in industrial factories since their education was tailored by rich teachers like Mr. Gradgrind, who are interested in only their own well being. Dickens therefore argues that the function of utilitarianism in Victorian society is misguided and corrupt. This disagreement is further embodied in the characterisation of the school children as “little vessels…ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.”

    This metaphor reiterates how the Victorian teachers do not see the pupils as individual people, but rather, mere “vessels” to be manipulated as they see fit. Moreover, the use of mathematical language such as “imperial gallons” echoes factory impressions and imagery. By using language and characterisation, Dickens has presented an effective picture of the hard times experienced by the working classes in the removal of individuality due to industrialisation, and the way in which this has influenced Victorian attitudes to education. He has also employed these techniques to mount an effective assault on the morality of utilitarianism in this society.

    Another way in which Dickens communicates a sense of the hard times is by describing the sense of entrapment that the working class feel due to industrialisation controlling their lives, “All the public inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe characters of black and white”. Since Dickens uses specific colour imagery of “black and white”, Dickens conveys that Coketown is a factual “black or white” region, which shows how the civilians are locked in a world of facts even by their decorating. Dickens mirrors the sense of entrapment in the workplace in the Victorian classroom which is another example of the negative effects of industrialisation.

    He does this by describing the classroom as “The scene was a plain, bare monotonous vault”. Firstly, Dickens uses the technique of a list of three. He uses this language technique to emphasise the dullness and entrapment felt in the classroom. Dickens conveys the idea that the children’s learning conditions were similar to a prison cell showing how the children were entrapped. Dickens also uses this language to show how children were locked into a world of facts. In “Hard Times”. By using language and imagery to convey a sense of entrapment, Dickens shows how the working classes’ entrapment in their jobs and the school children’s imprisonment in a world of facts create such hard times for them.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Dickens calls his novel Hard Times Essay. (2017, Nov 07). Retrieved from

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