Hardships of Victorian Era, England in Hard Times

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      In Hard Times, Dickens has implied wit, satire and humor in order to expose the evils, abuses and hardships of his society during Victorian age. His touches of humor, though make us laugh yet we constantly realize it that there is hidden severe satire for what Dickens is dealing with. Actually, Dickens was not happy to see the educational theory prevalent in the time. The utilitarian philosophy has not only influenced the education but several fields of Victorian life. Dickens has satirized the utilitarian educational theory right in the very first chapter of the novel, through Gradgrind’s over emphasis on “facts”. He says that the students are like “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”. He calls one of the students of his class as “Girl number twenty”. He never addresses her through her full name Cecilia Jupe or nickname Sissy. There is no scope for the students to wonder or to imagine. Emotion, sentiment, wonder, fancy or anything related with heart are ceased, students are not allowed to be ruled by their heart anytime. Head, reason facts are all in all in the philosophy of that Gradgrind was advocating. Gradgrind has applied his theory in home also. His children have never seen any face in the moon. They are not allowed to learn any silly jingle like: “Twinkle, twinkle little star; how I wonder what you are.” His wife also tells her children, not to wonder but to be “somethingological”.

      Bounderby the banker and manufacturer, is utterly utilitarian in his attitude. Dickens calls him a “bully of humility.” He always boasts of his “humble origin” and how he has become such a prosperous man. His attitude towards the factory workers is too callous, he does not care for their miserable conditions of living. He even regards their minor but essential demands as claims for “turtle soup and venison with gold spoon”. He dismisses very innocent and hard-worker Stephen Blackpool because he has denied to act as an spy for Bounderby and favoured the demands of factory workers. Bounderby does not even consider the plight of Stephen that he is putting him to starve. He does not feel any sympathy for Stephen’s chaotic married life. He advises him that he should continue with his sinister drunken wife because he can not afford to divorce his wife legally. He treats his workers as ‘hands’ not as human beings, he regards them in arithmetical terms or as machines. We find in Hard Times, whole Coketown filled with avarice, falsehood, exploitation, hard and dry facts etc.

      To sum up with the remark of critic Raymond Williams: “The scathing analysis of Coketown and all its works and of the supporting political economy and aggressive utilitarianism is based on Carlyle. So are the hostile reactions to Parliament and to ordinary ideas of reform. Dickens takes up the hostility, and it serves as a comprehensive vision, to which he gives all his marvelous energy. Hard Times, in tone and structure, is the work of a man who has ‘seen through’ society, who has found them all out. The only reservation is for the passive and the suffering, for the meet who shall inherit the earth but not Coketown, not industrial society. As a whole response, Hard Times is more a symptom of the confusion of industrial society than an understanding of it, but it is a symptom that is significant and continuing.

University Questions

“Times” were “hard” for what kind of people during Victorian age as represented in Hard Times? Give firm reasons for your answer.
What kind of problems England was undergoing as reflected in Hard Times? Elaborate your answer with references to the novel.

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