Reformation of Victorian Society in Hard Times
1. How did Charles Dicken’s Hard Times contribute to the reformation of the Victorian society? Hard Times is the tenth novel produced by Charles Dickens that accentuates on a world of Darwinism and domestic breakdown in which those with power devour those with less or none. This is essay will seek to comment on how did Charles Dicken’s Hard Times contribute to the reformation of the Victorian society. This will be in reference to language and utilitarianism.
Firstly, in terms of language, Charles Dickens utilized the technique of parallelism at the opening of the book, highlighting the criticisms that lie behind the work, the criticism of a whole system of thinking, a whole ideology of the Victorian Society. Tricolon parallelism is employed in the lines “Now what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life” to show that fact is indeed a universal feature, capable of being realized here or there, with this individual or that.
These are the first few sentences that appeared in the novel, so the readers are put into a utilitarian way of thinking as soon as he or she opens the book. This complies with the Victorian society living at the time of Queen Victoria’s reign as the elite is in total control of the society and its politics. Noblesse Oblige was their believes that it was the elite’s duty to take care of society.
As the ‘duty’ became a more manipulative way of conduct, Dickens found out about the danger of over possessive power in the elites towards the vulgar middle class and decided to make it in a crude and extreme manner so that everyone could come to a form of realization and choose to reform the society. Charles Dickens even accentuated on the reformation of the Victorian society through the character of Thomas Gradgrind. “A man of realities”, “A man of facts and calculations”, “A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four” gave us the basic traits of this character who is a complete failure of utilitarianism.
The employment of tricolon parallelism here is another indirect response towards the Victorian society who were conformed with actuality rather than breaking the tradition and march towards innovation. Dickens is trying to educate the people to reform by being imaginative and innovative while suggesting that sticking to solely facts will make us look like the machineries depicted in Coketown whereby “piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It is almost like Dickens used the falling of Thomas Gradgrind to prove the “eminently practical” Mr Gradgrind’s judgement of facts to be wrong. The next language technique utilized in Hard Times is asyndeton. Frederick Busch highlighted the constant appearance of the word muddle that denotes “turbidness, muddiness” and connotes “ unclarity, impurity” in his introductory speech of Hard Times which perhaps refers to Dicken’s confusion over labour relations as well as between decent men and women.
The usage of asyndeton speeds up the readiness of message intended by Dickens without distracting the readers for a more effective speech. Back to the question, Dickens’ confusion with the society class drew attention to himself to reflect the Victorian society with the labourers of Coketown which are called “the Hands. ” Dickens incorporated the technique of simile in the description of the labourers as “like the lower creatures of the seashore”, indicating the insignificance of their presence towards the more elite class.
The incorporation of Slackbridge as the union leader in Hard Times is Dicken’s shout out towards the oppressed labourers to stand up and fight against their rights. Next, in terms of utilitarianism, or in other words consequentialism, Dickens presented Hard Times in deontological ethic point of view whereby utilitarianism is very much about the teaching of duty. Individualism, existentialism and egoism are the key elements of this system. When reading the novel, the readers quickly get acquainted with this ideology that is so dominating during the period of time when it was written.
Mr Gradgrind is the epitome of the utilitarianism ideology with him going around sowing the seeds of utilitarian thinking especially in his children at young age. Utilitarianism as a government was propounded as a value of system which evaluated its productivity by its overall utility. It substantiated the idea of “highest level of happiness for the highest numbers of people. ” Since the overall happiness of the nation depended upon the overall productivity, industrialism became the walk of everyday life.
The impracticality of overall happiness that is clearly visualized in the description of the capitalist Coketown was an influence of utilitarianism. “Coketown lay shrouded in a haze of its own”, the smoke that hovers around the town like “serpents” and the machines of the town that works like “mad elephants” are instances to show the meaningless participation of people in insane productivity. The schools are described as jails and the churches are merely storehouses of the utilitarian products, the bells of which drive people mad.
The utilitarian fundamentalists negated the concept of “fancy”, imagination and human emotions depriving people of enjoying the qualities they were inherently carrying with them. This is better expressed in Dickens’ own words, “[t]here was fact, fact, fact everywhere in the material aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact everywhere in immaterial”. Hard Times contributed to the reformation of the Victorian society by highlighting that without heart or creativity in education, scientific facts are just dry and lifeless material.
Also, Dickens challenges the power structure of male-dominated Victorian society by presenting the world through female terms and conditions. Though speaking as a male and from the outside, Dickens speaks against the controllers of power thereby enhancing his position as a novelist. Dickens took Louisa as a character to accentuate the way sexual politics controlled women in private and public life. In the novel Hard Times, Louisa explored both “worlds” – the world of facts and the world of fancy; the world of facts is the most dominant to her. She does break free from it, but obviously not entirely.
One reason for claiming this is the fact that she was a grown woman before she was able to stand up to it and therefore it may have been too late for her to leave everything ever taught to her completely behind. She could still only see facts that were presented to her very eyes, but could not see things for herself in the future as in the line “she unconsciously closed her hand, as if upon a solid object, and slowly opened it as though she were releasing dust or ash. ” Josiah Bounderby is one character that represents the utilitarian attitude and, as such, is the villain of the story and clearly the target of Dickens’ political argument.
Dickens characterizes Bounderby as a powerful individual, driven by greed and guided by a distorted view of human nature. Dickens clearly portrayed Bounderby as a greedy and individualistic, self-serving capitalist and “the Bully of humility”; rather than an insightful, forward-looking crafter of a new industrial age. He artfully weaves his political enemy into a pompous, arrogant image reinforced with traditional working-class themes that lead the reader to conclude that Bounderby, as a manifestation of Gradgrind’s and Choakumchild’s philosophy of “fact,” represents all that is wrong with industrial society.
In a nutshell, Charles Dickens brilliantly manipulates the characters in Hard Times to create awareness in humans as to the reformation of Victorian society. The tight story, clear symbolism, moral values, sharp dialogue, natural style and convincing denouement clearly marked Dickens’ objective to educate and shed off the failure of utilitarianism. “Dear reader! It rests with you and me whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn grey and cold,” tells us that as long as we have lives, we should live it well.