Hard Times as Aimless Classic

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Several Issues interpreted in Hard Times

      Hand Times consists in several issues that are apparently dissociated. They confirm the horrible bitterness of industrial development; the principle of utilitarianism; shallow self-importance and self-interest; the anti-social power of the capitalist; and trade unionism. The filth, foul and squalid of industrialism is presented through the picture of Coketown and other issues are suggested in the characters like Gradgrind, Harthouse, Bounderby Slackbridge and Mrs. Sparsit.

Ugliness and Gloominess of Industrial Area

      Coketown is a country made of red brick and black soot; there are various streets and lanes that are monotonously alike; buildings are even built on same pattern and with same color, The utter similarity causes hardly any distinction between the jail and hospital, between the hospital and town hall. Coketown becomes like a hell in hot days due to industries and their smoke.

Gradgrind and Utilitarian Philosophy

      Gradgrind and utilitarianism are closely associated with each other. The theory of utilitarianism is based on Jeremy Bentham’s ideas that social legislation should give greatest happiness to the greatest number. But this philosophy is misused by the capitalists to fulfill their selfish motive. What these utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham or Gradgrind in Hard Times lack is the imagination emotion, poetry, fancy, sensibility and instincts. Gradgrind is a materialist who gives the greatest importance to the kind of fact that is represented by Bitzer’s definition of horse. Sissy’s account of horses is of no importance to Gradgrind, though Sissy lives among the circus animals. Gradgrind addresses her “Girl Number Twenty” without any particular name.

The Robbery Committed by Tom

      Gradgrind’s education policy is based on erasing imagination and emotion from the mind of the students and filling that up with facts and facts only His own children are brought up according to the philosophy. His daughter Louisa and son Tom find no outlet for their emotional life. Louisa finds a bit consolation in Tom and Tom in irresistible gambling. He commits robbery to pay his debts but strategically he made innocent Stephen fall under suspicion. When he is discovered as guilty he says to his father that he had committed it on account of his system. “So many people are employed in position of trust so many people, out of so many will be dishonest”.

Bitzer’s Want of Gratitude

      Thus abstract rules of statistics is more important than individual human being to Gradgrind and his pupils. Gradgrind’s system believes in judging human behavior rationally and to prevent the force of imagination and emotion. But Gradgrind’s system proves a failure because every utilitarian, at some stage faces some situation when feelings overpower them or feelings try to assert themselves. Gradgrind faces such situation when Bitzer catches hold of Tom as a culprit who has committed bank robbery To Gradgrind’s utter miserable condition Bitzer expresses no sense of gratitude or sympathy to the owner of the school where he had got education.

The Unsuccessful Marriage of Louisa

      Louisa’s unfortunate marriage is another great failure of Gradgrind’s system. Gradgrind was unable to find any reason why his daughter should not marry Bounderby a very wealthy industrialist and banker. From the point of economy Louisa and Bounderby were a good match and Louisa’s lack of affection or any kind of sweet emotion to Bounderby does not matter for this kind of match. But the marriage that is entirely based upon reason and facts fails badly Louisa comes back to his father’s house and Gradgrind finds himself helpless to say anything except he meant to do right.

Harthouse and his Doctrine of Self-interest

      Like Gradgrind James Harthouse is also a steadfast believer in the doctrine of self-interest. It is Gradgrind who sends Harthouse to Coketown and there is nothing unsatisfying about there being associated with this theory. Harthouse’s role is more of an instrument to develop the plot rather than illustrating the particular theory Harthouse is judged primarily as Louisa’s probable seducer. However, he is send back to his place leaving Coketown by Sissy in terms not to harm Louisa anymore. We hardly feel that a character so thin and insubstantial is an essential part of the book’s structure.

Bounderby: A Capitalist

      Bounderby is a rich man, a banker and capitalist who is entirely devoid of any affection or compassion. In his attitude to represent himself as a truly independent man, he has cut himself off from all personal relationships. All that he considers as a link between himself and others is power. He had pensioned his mother off under condition that she would never claim her to be his son; he deserts his wife when she asserts herself beyond being a mere article to possess. He dismisses honest and hard worker Stephen Blackpool immediately when he finds that he is not ready to go against his lot though he knows that it may put him to starvation.

Utilitarianism in Practice

      Bounderby is an individual capitalist and capitalism itself personified. He functions according to the principle of Utilitarianism. Acting entirely out of self-interest that is not only the source of money but power also, he is able to show self-interest in Bentham’s principle of “greatest happiness”. When he has a talk with Harthouse, he praised the foul of Coketown’s industrial chimneys as “the healthiest thing of world in all respects.” He describes the work of the “hands” as: “It’s the pleasantest work there is, and it is the lightest work there is, and its’ the best paid work there is. More than that, we couldn’t improve the mills themselves, unless we laid down Turkey carpets on the floors, which were not going to do.”

Mrs. Sparsit: An Aristocratic Housekeeper

      Bounderby’s housekeeper is Mrs. Sparsit who once belonged to an aristocratic background. Bounderby symbolizes the ruling class, the bourgeoisie of that present; and Mrs. Sparsit reflects the aristocracy and ruling class of the past.

The Unconvincing Portraiture of Stephen Blackpool

      Stephen is a martyr whose martyrdom is something personal rather than social. It is quite significant that Dickens does not even depict even for once the day-to-day life of factory workers. Stephen is made as to personify victim, a victim of unfortunate marriage. His contrast with Bounderby is not of master and worker kind but of a wealthy prosperous man who has enough money to get legal divorce from his wife and a poor who can not afford such thing. Stephen’s story in no way express the theme. Because Stephen’s story is not of the victim of society but his story is an emotional tale of workman and his wife. It also seems dramatic that his wife should be transformed into a drunken bitch from a pretty girl. How it has happened is also not written. The novel itself has no hint to explain the matter.

The False Picture of Trade Union

      The character of Slackbridge too is unconvincing. Slackbridge represents nobody in his oratory. His manner of addressing workers does not symbolize anything. Dickens has not rightly presented the nature of trade unions and leaders. On every ground either political or historical, either stylistic or artistic Dicken’s effort in this field is a perfect failure.

The Circus People

      The role of the people of the circus is quite relevant and significant. Mr. Sleary, the master of circus says to Gradgrind in lisping manner, “People must be amused. You must have us, Squire. Do the wise thing, and the kind thing too, and make the best of us, not the worst.” Dickens should give the picture of circus people in their day-to-day work. Mere glimpses of them is not enough to stand in opposition to utilitarianism and its branches into politics and industry Thus on the whole novel, no one is strong enough to counter the vicious alliance of Gradgrind and Bounderby. And that is why Hard Times appears more gruesome than what is the theme and content. The book’s structure too has been disfigured by the wrong representation of trade unions and praise of circus troupe to the state of moral positive.

An Erroneous Classic

      In spite of all these drawbacks Hard Times is a novel of greater virtue. “It is the most flawed of Dicken’s classics, but it is still a classic.” In fact Dickens is not condemning industry but laissez-faire, that had spoilt the industrial stream. The philosophy that is operating industry is questioned.

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