Dickens Criticism on Contemporary Education Theory in Hard Times

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Not a “tract” but most Outstanding and Celebrated Novel

      Undoubtedly; Hand Times is a passionate attack upon Victorian scientific and pragmatic education that was prevalent in English school of that period. This novel contains most biting and scathing satires upon this kind of educational theory The use of term “tract” for an eminent novel sound unfair. In addition, the theme of Hard Times is not restricted to the utilitarian principle of education; it is more broadened in scope. Hard, Times is an outstanding novel that displays Dickens’ creative power and his ingenuity in characterization and his knack of wit and humor. It also exhibits Dickens’ skill in weaving a plot into which several strands are tactfully knitted together so as to produce an effect of structural unity.

Denouncement of the Scientific and Pragmatic kind of Education

      The generally believed ground of the novel is the condemnation of scientific and pragmatic kind of education. Scientific and pragmatic education means the education that aims at developing the mind or reasonable faculty of the growing children by the theory of facts and preventing them to cultivate his emotions and fancy Now it is the educational theory of Gradgrind who is the owner of a model school in an industrial town named Coketown.

Facts Alone are Essential

      Gradgrind, the central character, is introduced in the very first chapter. We meet him urging the new schoolmaster to teach “facts” alone to his students. Gradgrind tells him, “In this life, we want nothing but Facts!” “Plant nothing else, and root out everything else This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”. The novelist describes the students as little vessels “arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.”

Ironic Description of Gradgrind’s Principle of Education

      Dickens’ ironic account of Gradgrind is inclined to ridicule the educational theory advocated by him. Gradgrind is called a man of realities, facts and calculations. He is described as eminently practical man, a man who firmly believes that two and two make four and nothing else. Gradgrind moves with a rule, a pair of scales, and the multiplication table in his pocket, always ready to examine “any parcel of human nature.” For him all the students are like pitchers who are to be filled with facts and facts alone. He addresses one of his students not by her full name or nickname but as “girl number twenty” He does not approve the first hand knowledge of the horse given by the girl who belongs to circus but he approves the definition of horse given by Bitzer: “Quadruped. Graminivorous, with forty teeth, hard hoofs requiring to be shed with iron.” This definition is highly amusing to us because of the style through which facts are accumulated and provided by Bitzer who is entirely distinct from girl number twenty whose name is Cecilia Jupe, or Sissy The apparent distinction between Bitzer and Sissy is significant, not only in respect of their conception of horse but also in regard of their, outward appearance.

Imagination not Required; Only Facts

      The satire on education grounded on facts and statistics proceeds with the government official’s indication to the futility of having Wall-paper with representations of horses on it, and carpets with Representations of flowers on them. When Sissy refers to “fancy” the government official scolds her for using the faculty of imagination. The government official says fact, fact, fact and it is repeated by Gradgrind. The government official emphasizes the requirement of facts to the limit of fantasy. He 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 world of fancy altogether.”

The Satirical Presentation of the New Schoolmasters

      The new schoolmaster is also portrayed in a satirical manner. His lecture on education what he is going to impart is also treated satirically that he has. He has been produced among approximately one hundred forty other schoolmasters, “By the same factory on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs.” His head is stuffed with facts based on the score of sciences and he has studied various languages. Dickens comments on this schoolmaster as “Rather overdone! If he had only learned a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.”

An Attack on the way the Grandgrind Children are brought up

      Dickens has attacked upon the education system of Gradgrind under which Gradgrind’s issues are brought up. No children of Gradgrind has ever seen a face in the moon. They are not allowed to learn any silly jingle like, “Twinkle, twinkle little star; how I wonder what you are!” They were ceased to wonder or to imagine. Even Gradgrind’s house was built on the matter-of-fact. His intense longing was “to make an arithmetical figure in Parliament”. His home has small cabinets of several departments of science. Dickens satirically refers to his daughter “metallurgical Louisa” and to his son “mathematical Thomas.” It was a shock for Gradgrind that Louisa and Tom had violated the code of education. They were found peeping through the hole of the canvas wall feeling curious to know what is circus. In fact in his own world there was no place for the circus, imagination, emotion or fancy. Thus it should not surprise us that these children are brought up as entirely devoid of imagination, wonder or emotion. Gradgrind has himself interpreted himself as a man “perfectly devoid of sentiments.”

The Plight of Louisa and Tom under the Supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind

      The condition of Louisa and Tom is very miserable being under the roof of his parents, and the monotonous and emotionless atmosphere of ‘Stone Lodge’. Tom says to Louisa that he is fed up with the life of “jaundiced jail” and that when he will grow up, he will compensate himself for all that is kept away from him. Louisa tells him, “It’s a great pity, Tom. It’s very unfortunate for both of us.” Louisa often sits at home, staring at the fire, lost in herself. Mrs. Gradgrind also tells Louisa and Tom to go and be “somethingological” instead of wondering.

The Destructive Consequences of Gradgrind’s System of Education

      The destruction that this kind of education can do is clearly displayed in the succeeding developments of Hard Times. Gradgrind refers to statistics to justify the disparity between the age of Gradgrind and Louisa. He wanted to convince Louisa that disparity in age does not matter, it should not be any hindrance between the marriage of her and Bounderby. Louisa’s marriage with Bounderby, of course, proves disastrous but she eventually becomes successful in restoring herself and she reaches her father’s house instead of eloping with her lover, James Harthouse. In the case of Tom, he fully compensates himself for the strict discipline of facts and figures to which he was put in his early years. He gets involved into gambling. Consequently he has sunk in debts. He has to rob his brother-in-law’s house in order to pay his debts. Finally, he has to migrate to another country in order to escape from the adverse consequences of law. Thus Gradgrind’s lot of sorrow becomes larger in bulk to the extent of showing sympathy for him. He is left brokenhearted at the end of the novel. Tom uses a statement of his father in order to justify his act of robbing the bank. Bitzer, the ideal model of Gradgrind, does not feel any gratitude for getting education in his school. He says that Gradgrind was paid for whatever he had given him. Thus, though all the three—Louisa, Tom and Bitzer—Dickens has condemned the scientific, pragmatic and utilitarian education of Victorian age.

Sissy: An Anti-Utilitarian

      Sissy can not digest the utilitarian system of education because she fails to learn the facts that were imposed upon her in the school of Gradgrind. She can not progress at the school and could not grasp the economic theories and facts that was taught in Gradgrind’s model school. Sissy remains good till the end and it is through her virtues that Gradgrind’s family is rescued from the disaster that would have taken place.

Not a Tract but Artistic Work

      Dickens is intended to suggest that there must be a balanced nourishment of both head and heart, the power of reasoning and ability to feel. To sacrifice the affection for the sake of the development of the brain means dehumanizing the students and keeping them far from what is most valuable in human nature. Although the propaganda purpose of Dickens is apparent, it would be completely unjust to call this novel a “tract”. Tract is a pamphlet in which facts are described in a scientific manner. It is dealt in tract as facts are taught in the classes of Gradgrind’s school. But Dickens’ novel conveys his educational principles through an interesting story, using all the creative resources of the language. Wit and humor that are found in Hard Times is never to be found in any tract; the pathetic circumstances, (Louisa’s tragedy, her suffering and Gradgrind’s lot of pain) that renders our hearts are not accepted to be found within a tract. Moreover, there are characters who are not only symbols but living individuals also. Besides, Hard Times is not narrowed to this single theme. It also deals with the practice of utilitarianism in business and industry. It illustrates the clash between industrialists and the laborers, trade-union and its problems. The novel also presents the inflexibility of divorce laws with reference to the touching story of Stephen and Rachael; it presents most interesting pictures of characters like Mrs. Sparsit and James Harthouse. Thus it is no way justifiable to regard Hard Times, a tract.

The Reality is Questioned

      Few critics have criticized the first chapter of the novel Hard Times for not being authentic. They say that this picture is historically false. They are of the view that Dickens has provided us highly inflated and rhetorical picture. Another group of critics say that first chapter is historically true. It is interesting to notice that though Hard Times begins with the scene of a school classroom and it has a lot to do with educational issues yet only first two brief chapters actually deal with the classroom theme. The schoolmaster never appears again, though few references are made to him later on. Dickens’ portrayal of schoolmaster is based upon his first hand knowledge of teachers produced by training schools of Victorian age. The disturbance that Dickens expresses, was in Victorian age very pervasive among poor laborers and professionals like—headmasters, inspectors and principals of the colleges. There was a general opinion that teaching in schools was too little oriented to the needs and capacities of the children. It was a general exercise in schools to strengthen the mind instead of developing all the faculties of children’s mind. If there is exaggeration anywhere in the novel, it is due to the extreme dominance of that matter in real society of the contemporary time. Thus, this kind of satire is completely justified in the novel, Hard Times.

University Questions

Do you agree with this criticism of Hard Times: “A tract against the scientific and pragmatic education.”
How Dickens has attacked upon the contemporary education theory in Hard Times? Give the references to the novel in order to develop your discussion.

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