Looking at ‘Down’, consider how Dickens presents the impact that Gradgrind’s philosophy has had upon Louisa. What wider moral points is he trying to make? Dickens wrote ‘Hard Times’ in the Victorian era as a criticism of the belief in controlling and filling people with knowledge. The character Louisa in the novel bears several similarities to John Stuart Mill, a real person who was brought up in a similar way to the ficticious Louisa with disasterous effects; he suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 21. Dickens used “Hard Times” to bring to attention the potential harmful effects that a utilitarian system could have upon people.Order now
Dickens describes the dystopia of Coketown but with a kind of irony in that many of the population including Bounderby and Gradgrind believe it to be a utopia. In “Down” the catastophic effects of the system are revealed by Louisa, and Gradgrind realises that his syatem has failed. The novel’s satirical style shows Dickens’ dislike for labels and categories and other forms of measurement, which illustrates part of the moral message of the book, that love, imagination and “fancy” cannot and should not be suppressed.
One example of the way in which Dickens makes us aware of this is in his descriptions, where the narrator sarcastically points out how “good” certain aspects of the Gradgrind philosophy are; “… everything that heart could desire” and also by referring to ‘fanciful’ things such as fairy tales in a kind of ironic counter reference; for example in the description “… a large black board with a dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures on it”, he is referencing a fictional creature, which is one of the things that Mr. Gradgrind despises most as it falls into his category of “fancy”.
The narrator serves as the “moral authority”of the novel. By way of frequent interuptions giving a kind of opinion, the narrator shapes our interpretations of the novel, for example: “It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but not all the calculators of the National debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions.
” In this passage from “No Way Out”, we can see that the narrator disagrees with Gradgrind’s belief in Fact, and instead believes that human nature cannot be reduced to facts and scientific principles. The narrator points out how little people know about what motivates the actions of other people. The “quiet servants” are the factory Hands and the narrator is suggesting that people need to understand them ,and the poor in general, better and also implies that this understanding cannot be attained through calculation, measurement and the accumulation of fact.
He then suggests “reserv our arithmetic for material objects, and to govern these awful unknown quantities by other means! ” This is a very clear example of how the narrator gives his opinion and also shapes ours as the reader. In the first chapter of ‘”Hard Times” (The one thing needful) the reader is introduced to the Gradgrind philosophy; “… nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.
” One of the things that Gradgrind believes should be rooted out is fancy; in chapter two when Sissy says “… I would fancy-“, she is immediately interrupted; “Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn’t fancy” Mr. Gradgrind has brought up his children, Tom and Louisa, based on a utilitarian system of education, and the rooting out of creativity, imagination, emotions and fancy, and by doing so he has suffocated their imaginations and emotions and unintentionally made them unhappy.
We can see that their upbringing makes Tom and particularly Louisa both crave some kind of imaginative stimulation, when in Chapter 3 Mr. Gradgrind finds them both looking at the circus. This is also where Louisa’s love for her brother is revealed, when she stands up for him when her father accuses Tom of having brought his sister to the circus; she says “I brought him Father… I asked him to come. “