Hard Times as A Social Novel

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      The novel Hard Times deals with two purposes. One is apparent and connected with divorce laws. Stephen Blackpool’s character, whose wife is a drunken and almost a sinister lady, Dickens shows his resent at the expensiveness of divorce system that had become a privilege of the rich, second purpose is social.

      It seems that Hard Times is related with a radical criticism of the very built of society. Dickens is against the exploitation and oppression of poor workmen by wealthy people and industrialist. But this attitude has partly become vague because of the wish to assault side by side a particular school of economic thinkers it results in ambiguity. In addition, other elements interrupt with the clarity and aggressiveness with which social views are presented in the novel.

Stephen’s Important Speech

      In his speech, Stephen lays great emphasis on the miseries of the poor and the callousness of the privileged rich class. He speaks in favor of the workers when Bounderby has tried to use him in extracting informations about the inner activities of the union workers. When Bounderby asked him about the demands of workers and what are their complaints, Stephen answers: “Indeed we are in a muddle, sir. Look round town - so rich as it is—and see the numbers of people as have been brought into being here, for to weave, and to card, and to piece out a living, all the same one way; somehow, twist their cradles and graves. Look how we live, and where we live, and in what numbers, and by what chances, and with what sameness; and look how the mills is always a-going, and how they never works us no nigher to any distant object excepting always death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up with your deputations of Secretaries of state about us, and how you are always right, and how we are always wrong. Look how this has grown and grown, bigger and bigger, broader and broader, harder and harder, from year to year from generation to generation. Who can look on it sir, and fairly tell a man it’s not a muddle?”

      These lines clearly state what according to Dickens lies at the base of social evil in general. In this regard another important speech is that Stephen makes at the time of his death, He talks about several deaths that have been caused by the chasm into which he had fallen.

Passionate Attack on Utilitarianism

      Another social purpose of the novelist is his denouncement of the utilitarians. The words with which the novel opens are a kind of satire on utilitarians theory: “Now what I want is Facts. Facts alone are wanted in, life.” The portrayal of Mr. Gradgrind is no less remarkable: “Thomas Gradgrind sir; A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations.” We cannot avoid the conversation between Mr. Gradgrind and his young daughter in this regard. When there was going on a talk between them, Gradgrind says Louisa to consider Bounderby’s marriage proposal according to the theory of facts. Bounderby is too elder than Louisa. This episode is among the most successful scenes of the novel. Mr. Gradgrind quotes statistics to suggest his daughter Louisa, not to consider the emotional matter like the glaring age difference between herself and Bounderby Lack of any kind of feeling or emotion to him is insignificant and he calls it a “misplaced expression.” Dickens seems to have lot of distrust and hatred for all masters of statistics.

Dickens’ Hatred for Worker’s Union

      Dickens finds nothing positive to suggest for the improvement of state affairs. His views in this regard is unsystematic and incapable of being worked out. This drawback is most striking in chapters devoted to the trade union in Coketown. He seems faithless towards the trade union that is why he has presented the Coketown union leaders in a very unpleasant light. But this attitude of Dickens should not be surprising because he had bad experiences in the House of Commons as a reporter and his personal subsequent deep contempt for all political bodies. But it is never convincingly interpreted why Stephen Blackpool refuses to join the worker’s union preferring to be outcast when he is a true believer of worker’s interest for what they have been fighting. To Dickens also, it was a sufficient reason that Stephen had promised Rachael not to entangle his life anymore. This kind of Stephen’s attitude is one of the main currents of the novel’s action, so that a large part of the book can be questioned.

Dickens’ Romantic Socialism

      On account of his disbelief in worker’s union, Dickens did not succeed in creating a clear and well-integrated matter. We can regard his attitude as sentimental socialism. He was sensitive to the problem but it had remained on the emotional level and does not exist in his intelligence. He puts his trust in the benevolence of the employer to ameliorate the life of poor laborers.

Satire against a Particular Principle

      In the fifties Dickens’ novels began to present a greater complexity of plot than before. The reason behind that Dickens was intended to use them as his mouthpiece of presenting sociological argument. All his journals also reflect that Dickens was stressing his mind a lot for social problems. In earlier days he had been satisfied to feel or to record any such thought when it touches his heart. Dickens’ target of satire in Gradgrind is not his burlesques or habit of exaggeration but his particular educational theory. He is the only major character of Dipkens who is meant to be “intellectual”. Moreover Dickens did not understand any philosophy that can ridicule it triumphantly.

The Idea of Personality in Stephen Blackpool

      Through an industrial worker Stephen Blackpool, Dickens has presented his idea of personality. Stephen, thrown out by trade union, employer Bounderby and defeated by Law might have become the subject of real tragedy, if Dickens has been ready to accept his death in beginning as something unavoidable but he was searching all the time of a solution to avoid the proper tragic solution, and it results in nothing but a slow account of unheroic pain and defeat. Dickens was not intended to say that Stephen’s bargaining capacity against Bounderby or against his marriage, or against life was avoidable, but written in a manner as if there might be an unforeseen solution at every turn. The culminating point is of course in those scenes that are concerned with the trade union. Three points have been a stressed here (i) Stephen’s enigmatic inflexibility and stubborness in refusing to join Trade Unions (ii) Dicken’s contempt for Slackbridge, (iii) the varying mood and attitude of the rest of the workers towards Stephen as men and as union members under Slackbridge’s spell.

Industrialism

      Dickens was both fascinated and repelled by the industrialism. The failure of Hard Times in the field of plot and major characters no Way belittle the blend of charm and hatred that Dickens felt for the industrial scene. Dickens distaste and abhorrence is more clear but beneath it there is unlimited resent at the distress and destitute of human life that was the result of Industrialism. Dickens’ indignation is not of a coarse and rude nature but an upset mood that colors every viewpoint, contributing a great deal to the unsuccess of this novel.

Narrative Deficiency

      Hard Times is the record of few remarkable features of Victorian society. Among all the novels this is the most explicit book in its expression of economic disbeliefs. There are various causes why its thesis is not fully developed, Dickens did not get enough canvas for developing his unmatched plot sequences. He also had problem in using all his narrative technical resources on his subject, so that the book does not contain many of his best technical devices. For any two entirely different plots in action, one needs relatively a large scope. In the novel few episodes sometimes seem unfinished and undeveloped.

An Attack on Utilitarian Economy

      Dickens was quite influenced with Carlyle’s economic ideas. Hard, Times can be regarded as a satire on utilitarian economy Dickens feels that to depend upon capitalistic practicality without respect to sympathy and feeling of fraternity results in frequent complications among the capitalists and laborers. Dickens’ scenes were of Manchester or Leeds or some other such industrial popt, and he named the place “Coketown”. However, the thesis of Hard Times contains also the criticism of the educational theory the caste system and law to get divorce from one’s wife or husband.

Dickens’ Warning to Capitalists

      Dickens’ satire on economic system is very apparent. He is obviously against the excess of self-centered capitalism; he knows that several workers are not adequately paid. If workers do not get enough to live reasonably, there would be problem. He wishes utilitarian economists and commissioners of fact to plant in the poor the utmost fancy and affection before reality should take a devilish and crude face and make an end of the rich. This kind of thought points that Dickens was foreseeing the danger of revolution or other agitation.

Strikes and Violence are Fruitless

      Yet Stephen is a character that wins our sympathy. The union leader, Slackbridge delivers his speeches in most indecent manner and the general impression of the union is that it organizes because ruthless capitalists are not inclined to do something to improve the state of worker’s life. Dickens’ manner of dealing with workers says that strikes and violence do not result in something favorable for very long.

Conclusion

      Hard Times should be examined on artistic grounds. It should not be under-evaluated because of its narrative deficiency nor overestimated because its thesis makes an appeal to those readers who are conscious to the drawbacks of the system of capitalism.

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