Art of Characterization in Hard Times

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Characters are Caricatures

      The most striking feature of the novel Hard Times is its economy in all spheres. Vivid characterization is the well known property of Dickens’ novels. In Hard Times there is no abundance of secondary characters which is a major feature of all his other famous novels. The plot is well organized and compressed. This economy is due to few characters in number and their brief portraiture. But these characters in spite of brevity appears more complete than other caricatures of Dickens’ novels. In the novels his taste for the grotesque is linked with the caricature types and this particularly happens in Hard Times, The characters are too vital and this is the result of the truth that God had gifted Dickens with skill to kindle the spirit of individuality in his characters. Many characters are immortal and claim to live in English literature forever.

Development of Characters

      Dickens, the narrator, is always a moralist who enlightens the virtues of good characters and shows the evil characters defeated and punished. Psychologically, these characters do not develop a lot, but the works written later, manifest Dickens’ effort to present central figures going through the long rigorous and strenuous process of getting matured. Louisa in Hard Times is the good example of this kind of attempt but only to limited success, because her reserved nature makes her somewhat unemotional and spiritless. Due to particular mishappening the character of bad group is converted and made good. This points the victory of moral. In Hard Times Mr. Gradgrind seems a villain like Mr. Bounderby at the start of the story, but towards the end he is transformed into a hero. But though all the incidents and process through which he is reformed and became wise is very satisfying yet somehow he appears less vital and real after transformation.

Apparent Distinction between Characters

      In Hard Times, all of the characters are divided into clear groups. They are either good or bad, tyrannical or victims, poor or wealthy humble or wise. Indeed the circus group stands at a little different post but ultimately they present Dicken’s sense of morality by the victory of their sensitivity, sympathy wisdom and frankness. Sissy is the most important representative who at last impresses Gradgring through her inherent gift of love and sympathy and makes him conscious of his own self, to examine whether he is wrong or right.

Characters are Less Rounded in Hard Times

      Hard Times is not a good example of Dickens’ gift of making fun and humor. Dickens has the amazing knack for forming humourous characters and events. Mrs. Sparsit is the most amusing subsidiary character with “Coriolanian eyebrows”, Roman nose and “extraordinary facility of locomotion.”

      The characters of Hard Times are less rounded than the characters of the novels written after 1842 (From the publication of Martin Chuzzlewit).

      The most famous characters of Hard Times are simplest and least cultivated. Stephen Blackpool, Rachael, Sissy Sleary all behave with such simplicity and nobleness that they provide relief from the unpleasant feeling given by villainous characters like Gradgrind, Bounderby or Mrs. Sparsit. Stephen’s portraiture is just marvelous and excellent. He is presented as full of innocence, integrity faithfulness and truth. His dialect is Northern English. The soothing grace of Rachael and her unwavering instinct of what is right and wrong, make her a good friend of much distressed Stephen. The story of their pure and unselfish love but its tragic end is a very pathetic part of his humble life. But on the other hand, apart from heroes and heroines of humble origin when Dickens portrays the characters like personages of more cultivated natures, the difference of execution is noticeable and very apparent. They seem like Puppets, moving according to the fixed purpose of the author and special role assigned to them. For example, Bounderby is a villain and notorious fellow though his mother had brought him up with utmost care yet he had pensioned her off and told her never to approach him and claim him to be her son. Whenever the character of Bounderby comes on the scene, we feel disgusted and malignant. Grandgrind’s whole family is not happy. The death scene of Mrs. Gradgrind should not have been made funny especially when it does not contribute to the development of plot.

Unconvincing Portraiture of Characters

      George Gissing points out that in his novels Dickens portrays poor men suffering from oppressions and exclaim against the adversity of circumstances but he does not depict any representative wage-earner who was in those days to be seen struggling for bread and justice. Dickens should be forgiven for this deficiency because he does not know the north of England. Gissing further elaborates that Stephen Blackpool stands for nothing at all, he is just an embodiment of mealiness and his misfortune is nothing symbolical to suggest someone who was unhappy because of getting married to a drunken wife. In fact, Hard Times is a violent attack on materialism, a theme which is used to study the discontented and agitated laboring class.

Characters are Exaggerated

      G.K. Chesterton remarks that Hard Times strikes a note of severity Indeed the characters are exaggerated but not that spontaneously exaggerated as is seen in Nicholas Nickleby and Martin Chuzzlewit. Chesterton points out that the character of Bounderby is exaggerated because Dickens really dislikes him, and he had exaggerated Pecksinff because he was really affectionate to him. For Chesterton, Hard Times is not the noble achievement of Dickens but perhaps one of his greatest memorials. It clearly consists in Dickens’ original emotions on so many things which were then taken as unphilosophical complaints but that have expanded the vast phenomenon of socialist philosophy.

Characters are Significant to Theory

      Stevenson points out that Hard Times is strictly made upon a single social theme Dickens’ other novels. Dickens starts with the deliberate intention of studying the relationship between industrialists and hands in the newly built cities and to condemn the utilitarian philosophy which was the ideological basis of the capitalism. This purpose had been hinted in Dombey and Son and also in Bleak House. In Hard Times characters are created to demonstrate the theory The novel does not contain any richly portrayed comic figure that is very common to Dickens’ books. Dickens started Hard Times after studying the reports of the newly formed national system of education and even he went to visit a town where workers had been on strike and there was great industrial conflict. The characters of Hard Times can be put in symmetrical sections either to present the contrast between capitalists and laborers or between the suppressed children of the school of “facts” and fun-loving group of circus troupe.

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