Do you think that the characters in Hard Times have credibility? Are they fully developed or are they merely ciphers representing philosophical ideas? Hard times was written in 1854 by Charles Dickens. Dickens was a prominent Victorian novelist who wrote about the society that surrounded him. He was educated and middle-class but had some sympathy with the way poor people were treated. He was critical of utilitarianism and felt that those in power showed little understanding of the poor.
His sympathy with the poor stemmed from his childhood and his father’s inability to stay out of debt. Hard Times is Dickens’ shortest novel and is considered by many to be a satire, the story revolves around the hard-headed disciplinarian Mr Thomas Gradgrind. Through the thinking of this character, Dickens examines the utilitarian philosophy of the time and exposes some of the hypocrisy of those in positions of power. The novel is set in the fictional city of Coketown. The city may be based on Dickens’ own experiences of Preston where the industries and factories are similar to those of Coketown.
”A town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it.” In the very first paragraph of the first chapter we are introduced to the principles of Thomas Gradgrind “Now what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” These principles not just forced upon the reader from the very start but we are told they are forced upon Gradgrind’s children and all the children of the school. Right away, the reader is given an insight into the workings of Coketown and to Dickens excessive use of hyperbole. The word “emphasis” is repeated six times in one paragraph, this not only gets the point across but also gives us an insight into Thomas Gradgrind’s personality.
However, in the chapters to follow, Gradgrind’s utilitarian philosophy begins to show sighs of being flawed and weak. Young Tom and Louisa Gradgrind who have been brought up in a life based firmly on facts defy their upbringing by visiting the circus. Their rebellious attitudes are summed up by Louisa Gradgrind’s statement “I have been tired a long time … of everything, I think” Their emotions, imaginations and even their very human nature had been subdued and buried for so long by their father’s utilitarian regime that they had to escape. Louisa begins to realise that she has not done a lot with her life, she is growing up and her childhood has been stolen from her. This is the reason why the second chapter is tiled “Murdering the Innocents,” it is referring to the innocence of childhood. In the eighth chapter, Louisa tells her troubles to her brother Tom.
“It made me think after all, how short my life would be and how little I could hope to do in it” Her childhood is coming to an end and when she sees Sissy Jupe, she realises how much she has missed. However, she is still thinking logically and not trusting her emotions, her behaviour is indicative of the utilitarianism philosophy. She feels the only person she can confide in is young Tom. Sissy Jupe has been brought up in the circus and her values are in direct conflict with Thomas Gradgrind. She cannot understand the philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number; “It must be just as hard upon those who were starved whether the others were a million or a million million.”
This is the opposite of Thomas Gradgrind’s utilitarian philosophy. She sees the people who fall out of the majority. The irony is that Thomas Gradgrind has adopted Sissy; invited the antithesis of the Gradgrind household’s ides into the Gradgrind’s home. Stephen Blackpool is the reality of Coketown; he led a monotonous life, was an ordinary person and did not see himself as remarkable. “He took no place among those remarkable ‘hands’ who… had mastered difficult sciences and acquired a knowledge of most unlikely things.” He was just another statistic brought into the uniform world known as Coketown.
The way Dickens describes all the inhabitants of Coketown as ‘hands’ agrees with the Gradgrind’s utilitarian system. Hands do not think, hands do not have emotions; they just do what they are told. With this in mind, we would think that Mr Bounderby, who grew up as a vagabond, as a ‘hand’ and raised himself to a place of power, would be sympathetic towards Stephen Blackpool. However, he does not, he hypocritically treats Stephen with absolutely no respect. He tells him that divorce is not for the type of people like Stephen Blackpool; “Don’t talk nonsense…the only thing you have got to do, is, to mind your piece-work.”