Dr. Ram Janam
Department of English
Gayatri Vidyapeeth P.G. College Risia, Bahraich, U.P.
The present research paper endeavours to depict how Charles Dickens highlights the burning social problems of the Victorian society through his novels. He has written novels with a missionary zeal to portray the sufferings of the downtrodden at the hands of the capitalists. Hard Times is a Classic of Dickens, and has a great motif behind it. It has no single purpose but a number of motifs. But the chief purpose of the novelist was to attack the educational system of Manchester and exploitation of workers in England. Through his novel Dickens has portrayed industrial ugliness, exploitation of workers, class conflict, and the hollowness of education in the Victorian society.
Key Words: Exploitation, Hollowness, Assails, Downtrodden.
Charles Dickens’novel Hard Times contains graphic pictures of the ugliness of industrialism that was raising its head in the Victorian Age. Coketown is described as a town of machinery and tall chimneys out of which un-ending columns of smoke rose upwards forever and ever. The streets of the town, whether large or small, are exactly like one another; the people are also exactly like one another. They all go in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work. In this way the monotony of the workmen’s life is fully conveyed to us. The need for any relaxation or physical relief is never realised by the employers. In fact, the workmen are not men at all; they are “hands”, so many hundred hands, “so many hundred horse steam power”. These men are not supposed to have any souls; they are hands who have to work upon “the crashing, smashing, tearing mechanisms, day in and day out.” Time goes on in this industrial town like its own machinery: so much material used, so much fuel consumed, so much money made. The man who makes money through the labours of these hands regards the smoke of the chimneys as meat and drink for the capitalist. Speaking to Harthouse, Bounderby describes this smoke as “the healthiest thing in the world in all respects, and particularly for the lungs.” Any sympathy for the workmen is regarded by this capitalist as “humbugging sentiment”; he is not at all prepared, as he puts it again and again, to feed them on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. It is noteworthy, also, that while depicting industrial ugliness, Dickens shows his awareness of the romantic side of machinery. He sees the lighted mill by night as a “fairy palace” which suggests that the factory has more to it than dirt, monotony, and oppression.
Hard Times is a novel in which Dickens fiercely attacks what he regarded the evils of Victorian society. He attacks the motive of self interest promoted by industrialism and utilitarianism. He depicts the unwholesome relationship between capital and labour. He attacks the callousness of factory-owners and the pig-headedness and aggressiveness of trade unionism. He focuses on hollowness of Member of Parliament. We know that Dickens is master of realistic representation of Victorian society. Dickens is also the master of pathos and his novels abounds in situations that shows the exploitation of workers and downtrodden.
Dickens’s attitude towards exploitation and crime, like most of literary artists was highly complex. Dickens was drawn to crime by the mere fascination of the ugly and perverse, by the opportunities it gives to a writer for exploiting the sensations of mystery, suspense and terror and for throwing the cheerful elements into high relief. He was fond of showing the tragic retribution that follows crime and was particularly impressed by the thought of the criminal as haunted by evil. Sometimes he was content with the mere aesthetic thrill produced by grotesque monstrosity. But more often crime and villainy take their place among social phenomena as inevitable effects of evil in the social body.
There can be no doubt regarding the fact that Hard Times contains a scathing, satirical attack upon the kind of scientific and pragmatic education that was supposed by Dickens to be prevalent in English schools of his time. Besides the theme of the novel is not confined to the utilitarian theory of education of the time; it is much wider in scope. Hard Times is a great novel which exhibits Dickens’s creative power including his originality in character-portrayal and his gifts of wit and humour. It also demonstrates Dickens’s capacity for building up a plot, various strands of which are closely interwoven so as to produce an effect of a structural unity.
A denunciation of the scientific and pragmatic kind of education that is believed to have held the ground in the Victorian Age is certainly to be found in this novel. By a scientific and pragmatic education we mean an education which aims at developing the mind or intellect of the growing child by feeding him upon facts and not allowing him to cultivate his own emotions and imagination. Incidently this is exactly is the educational theory of Gradgrind who runs a model school in an industrial town called Coketown.
We meet Gradgrind in the very opening chapter where we find him urging the new schoolmaster with a ridiculous name to teach “facts” and only facts to his pupils. The author describes the pupils in this class as little vessels ready to have gallons and gallons of facts poured into them until they are filled to the brim. Gradgrind is of the opinion:
Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of service to them. This is the principle on which 1 bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!( Hard Times ,15)
Dickens’s ironical description of Gradgrind is aimed to make fun of the kind of educational theory of which he is the advocate. Gradgrind is described as a man of realities, as a man of facts and calculations, as an eminently practical man. The boys and girls in the classroom are to him little pitchers who are to be filled with facts. He addresses one of the pupils in the class not by her name but as “girl number twenty”. He does not want from this girl the kind of first-hand knowledge that she has acquired about horses by having lived among them. He wants the kind of definition that Bitzer offers of a horse: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty- four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Hoofs hard but requiring to be shod with iron.” (18) .This definition is greatly amusing because of the manner in which facts have been gathered and presented by Bitzer who is sharply distinguished from girl number twenty whose name is Cecilia Jupe, or in short Sissy. The contrast between Bitzer and Sissy is significant, not only as regards their respective conceptions of a horse but also as regards their physical appearance.
The satire on education based upon facts and statistics continues with the government inspector’s pointing out to the pupils the undesirability of having wall-paper with representations of horses on it, and carpets with representations of flowers on them. When Sissy mentions the word ‘fancy’, the government inspector warns her against ever making use of such faculty. ‘Fact, fact, fact’, says the government inspector, and the words are repeated by Gradgrind. The government inspector emphasises the need of facts to the point of absurdity. The inspector says “We hope to have before long a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact, You must discard the word fancy altogether,” (Hard Times, 20)
The new schoolmaster is also described in a satirical manner so as to expose the absurdity of the kind of education which he has received and which he will impart to his pupils. He has been produced, with about one hundred and forty other schoolmasters, by the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs.
The attack on this kind of education continues in the author’s account of the manner in which Gradgrind is bringing up his own children. None of his children had ever seen a face in the moon. None of them had ever learnt the silly jingle. “Twinkle, twinkle little star; how I wonder what you are!” None of his children had ever known wonder on the subject; in fact, they are always urged never to wonder at anything, just as they are urged never to use their fancy. Gradgrind lives in a matter-of-fact home, and his ambition is “to make an arithmetical figure in Parliament”, an ambition which is subsequently fulfilled. His home has small cabinets in various departments of science, and the author satirically refers to his daughter as his “metallurgical Louisa” and to his son as his “mathematical Thomas”. It comes something like a shock to Gradgrind that these two children should feel inquisitive about such a triviality as the circus which is giving its performances in the town and a visit to which would be a violation of his educational code. In other words, his system of education excludes from its purview such pastimes as the circus. No wonder these children are growing up with their powers of imagination starved and stunted. There is no scope for them to develop their instincts, feelings, and emotions. Gradgrind himself is described as a man “perfectly devoid of sentiments”.(27)
Louisa and Tom are most unhappy with the kind of atmosphere in which they are being brought up under their father’s roof. Tom tells his sister that he is sick of life in this “jaundiced jail” and that, on growing up, he will compensate himself for all that is being denied to him now. Louisa’s answer to this is, “It’s a great pity, Tom. It’s very unfortunate for both of us.”(28) Louisa often sits at home, staring at the fire, lost in her thoughts. Even their mother keeps urging Louisa and Tom to go and be something logical instead of wondering at things.
The damage that this kind of education can do is amply demonstrated by subsequent developments in the novel. Gradgrind quotes statistics to prove that a disparity between the ages of a man and a woman is no bar to their getting married, and in this way argues Louisa into accepting Bounderby’s proposal of marriage. Louisa’s marriage with Bounderby proves, of course, disastrous and she just stops short of running away with a lover when one appears on the scene. As for Tom, he fully “compensates” himself for the rigid discipline of facts and figures to which he was subjected in his early years. He takes, among other things, to gambling, gets into debt, robs the bank where he is employed, and has to escape to a foreign country in order to save himself from the clutches of the law. Gradgrind pays heavily for the defective, one-sided kind of education that he gave to his children and to others as well, and he is broken-hearted at the end. Tom, in self-justification, employs the very jargon which his father used to employ as an educationist. Another product of Gradgrind’s school, Bitzer, is governed purely by ideas of utility according to which self-interest is supreme, and gratitude is a virtue not to be practiced at all. All these characters- Louisa, Tom, and Bitzer-are a sad commentary on the scientific, pragmatic, and utilitarian education of the time.
Sissy happily escapes the consequences of this system of education because she never could learn the facts which were forced upon her. She made no progress at the school and could not imbibe the economic theories and facts that were the staple diet offered to pupils in Gradgrind’s model school. Sissy remains human till the end, and it is through her that the Gradgrind family is saved from some of the misfortunes that would have befallen it but for Sissy’s emotional attachment to it.
Thus Dickens is pleading in this novel for a balanced development of the head and the heart, the power of reasoning and the capacity to feel, the mental faculty and the instincts or affections. Furthermore, it can be said that the novel is not confined to this one theme only but it also illustrates the practice of utilitarianism in business and industry. It also depicts the conflict between capital and labour and hollowness of education of England.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New Delhi: Rupa Publications India. Pvt. Ltd., 2014. Print.
Baker, G. Ernest A. The History of English Novel Vol. 10. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1950. Print.
– Collins, Philip (Ed). Dickens and Crime. New York: Macmillan, 1962. Print.
– Dickens and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1965. Print.
– Young , G.M. Portrait of An Age; Victorian England. London: Oxford University
Press, 1977. Print.
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