Appropriateness of The Title Hard Times

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Introduction

      The beginning of Hard Times is striking. It must have wondered and inspired the regular readers of Household Words in 1854. The first chapter is short but it is impregnant with several implications. The witty readers may laugh at sudden comparisons—such as “a man’s hair like a plantation of firs.” But he would also notice that Dickens was dealing with matters too serious to laugh. The reader does not like the type of education taught and made popularized in Gradgrind’s model school. The children are described as “little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.” It is very obvious that this question would raise its head regarding. the portraiture of Gradgrind, “Can this be a real man?” And, “Is this the right way to describe children?”

      If the reader would put the title of the novel Hard Times and the title of the first chapter The One Thing Needful side by side, the discernable reader would know that the discussion is based directly on the vices of the society. Right from the start of the novel we meet an emphatic domineering and self-assured man announcing that one action alone is enough to sort out all the problem of the day; and that is fact. Moreover, he would never accept any other point of view or idea.

Book I: Sowing

      The title of Hard Times, Book I Sowing is very appropriate for the theme of the novel. The wise reader would utter words like “what a man sows that shall he also reap.” In brief one can state that this kind of introduction is a frightening warning that you will pay for what have done wrong in past. The teaching, that is provided in Gradgrind’s model school, is wrong because this utilitarian education theory and philosophy is divorced from the needs and essential human values of the pupils. It is because of this reason his characters suffers and Gradgrind later gets transformed in the novel after facing the disastrous consequences of his utilitarian theory of educating the children.

Dry and Hard Facts

      The very beginning of Hard Times stimulates this feeling that the scene of factory-like school is full of vices, imperfections and flaws. A man, whose name is Gradgrind, (hard like Grindstone) could be presumed to cut away tenderness and kindness, sympathy or emotions and sentiment. He does not permit his students to wonder or make use of their emotions and fancy. He wants facts and facts only, as he said in the very beginning of the novel. Gradgrind is unfortunately favored by the government official ‘always with a system to force down the general throat like a bolus.’ The school inspector shows how the formula of ‘facts’, is applicable to articles like wall-papers and carpets. Simultaneously, we study the oddities, Sissy like readers should be apprehended ‘by the matter-of-fact’ formula of world ruled and directed by powerful people who have quitted “thing needful” and humanistic attitude to anybody or anything. Human values are too essential to be injected ‘into gloomy statistical dens.’

The Residence of Gradgrind, ‘Stone Lodge’

      Not only Gradgrind is man of ‘hard facts’, but his residence ‘Stone Lodge’ also seems to be an appropriate house for such a man ‘with a rule and a pair of scales and the multiplication table always his pocket ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and will tell you exactly what it comes to’. ‘Stone Lodge’ is oh the periphery of gruesome industrial Coketown, and within its square walls his five children are brought up in accordance with the theory of facts and facts only Gradgrind’s children are going through hard times or painful times in their home. Gradgrind’s children put his principles to practice. The elder children are so filled with facts and reason that they are feeling tired of life, dissatisfied and being excessively reserved. They are hankering for something different. That is why Louisa and Tom are caught by Bounderby peeping through the canvas wall of circus to know what is circus. Mr. Gradgrind has no use of it. He is ‘eminently practical’ to starve their children for imagination, wonder and fun.

Hardness of Bounderby

      Besides Gradgrind, another man in Coketown who represents the hardness is a banker, and industrialist of Coketown, Bounderby. Dickens regards him as “bully of humility.” He is a ‘self-made’ man who is utilitarian at all costs. Everything can alter; bent or molded but Bounderby is exceptional. He is utterly uncompromising man. He boasts of his own superiority and refuses ever to appreciate anyone else. For him, human relation does not mean anything. He is stiff and uncompromising like a fool. He wants brilliance, logic, fact and reason only The laboring worker of Coketown are passing through troublesome conditions. They are not even sufficiently paid, fed or given shelter. Bounderby exploits them for his own self but does not care to increase their level. When they form themselves into an organized society and collectively asked for the essential needs of life, Bounderby refuses to even think about their demands, and regards them as demand for turtle soup and venison with gold spoon. One of the Tiands’ Stephen Blackpool, an honest and senior worker is dismissed, because he refuses to go against his fellow workers. What is wrong with the workers organized under Slackbridge is that they mistook Stephen against them because he has not joined their union and send him to Coventry (excommunicating him). When we find Stephen cooperative, Bounderby speaks in a bullying manner and rebukes to have six leaders like Slackbridge put on trial on charges of transgression and get them punished for conversion in life.

      In Coketown the owner treats his ‘Hands’ as figures in arithmetical terms or as machines. Not only the workers are being afflicted in Hard Times, the over all atmosphere of the novel, for that matter of Coketown, is profused with avarice, falsehood, braggarat, exploitation and victimization of the innocent and hard facts. Such crisis is inclined to give us an impression that we are reading about England in its bad days.

Book II: Reaping; Book III: Garnering

      An old motto, “What you sow, so you reap”—is appropriately implied to Hard Times. Mr. Gradgrind sows the seeds of facts, utilitarian philosophy and discard of all the imagination, emotion and sentiments, and he gets in result also the hard facts—a life deserted by love, affection, sympathy that is not worth to live. But he has to pay great price for grasping this bitter teaching. His daughter Louisa and son Tom both’s life become disastrous and it happens because of his hard principles. On the other part, the circus people represent all the good values of life which make the earth worthy to live. They play a great role in exposing the blemishes of Gradgrind’s system of education.

      Another remarkable point is what is reaped and garnered by Bounderby? He gets a life without wife; a life in which he can not brag of having done any good work. We feel contempt for him as the working men of Coketown do. In spite of his great prosperity he dies an ignoble and dishonorable death. Mrs. Sparsit also faces the poetic justice (Good should be awarded and bad should be punished). She is disgraced and humiliated like an ugly street dog. Tom dies in some foreign country far from his most affectionate sister and ‘eminently practical’ father. Thus Hard Times provides a picture of England under hard times. What is responsible for the hardness of times, according to Dickens, is the inflexibility and hardness of men’s mind. Dickens has tried to suggest that unjust, wrong and evil manner of thinking makes time hard. Such bad and evil ways are like the responsible bacterias of disease in that they are a threat not only to those who feeds them but also to those whose lives are associated with theirs.

Conclusion

      To sum up the discussion, the critic A.O.J. Cockshut’s remark is worthy to quote: “The leading idea of the book is proclaimed in the contrast between its subject, industrial society and the titles of its three sections—Sowing, Reaping and Garnering. The intention, carried out at times with great subtlety and at times with a rather weary obviousness, was to show inherent life and growth conquering theory and calculations. This approach; tends to break down the stock distinctions between town and country between industry and agriculture, between science and institiltion. From the first brilliant description of the factory world, the elephants’ heads represent the movements of machinery the factory world is treated as a living thing. Thus industrial smoke is linked with the horrors of hypocrisy and deception.” This remark adds more to the point that the title Hard Times is most appropriate and significant.

University Questions

Discuss this dictum: Hard Times Dickens gives a picture of a part of England under hard times”.
Or
Write a note on the appropriateness of the title Hard Times. Give references to the novel in order to justify your answer.

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