Individuality of Characters in the Novel Hard Times

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Two Major Attacks on Dickens’ Art of Characterization

      Two usual charges against Dickens’ art of characterization in his novels are: first, he is condemned for considerable exaggeration. Secondly he does not inform us enough about the inner world of his characters. Both of these charges are important. His inclination torwards exaggeration leads Dickens to portray caricatures; and his drawback of not describing the inner happenings of his characters represents his characters somewhat shallow, trivial and flimsy. Yet it is true that next only to Shakespeare, Dickens has given us the series of characters and most of his characters are individuals, someone different from other characters, they have their own life and individuality.

Characters are Symbolical yet Distinctive

      Most of the characters in Hard Times undoubtedly embody certain ideas and concepts. All the character has symbolic significance in the novel that make the reader to regard novel as a fable or a morality drama. All the characters stand for something and they symbolize that; most of the characters seem personifications of abstract theory And yet we could say with command that all the characters are living individuals and not only peculiar in Jonsonian sense. In the plays of Ben Jonson, the characters are commonly the embodiments of “humor”; each character there symbolizes certain humor but nothing more. Here, while we meet embodiments of certain abstract theories, each of the character is given individuality and vitality of his own. Each has some distinctive features that differentiate him or her from the types they would have been if peculiarity should be detached from them.

Gradgrind and Bounderby as Embodiments of the Utilitarian Principle

      Gradgrind and Bounderby both are undoubtedly embodiments of what is known as utilitarian theory in Victorian political economy Gradgrind embodies utilitarianism in its most inflexible form specially in the field of education, and, later in the book, in the field of parliamentary activity His principle of education rests upon the importance of facts, figures, and statistics. Gradgrind is of the belief to measure the world with a pair of compasses; human beings are just arithmetical units in his opinion; he does not give any importance to feelings, fancy affections and imagination. He does not only administer his school according to the utilitarian principle but he implies it into his family life, bringing up his children according to this particular principle, and even in marrying his daughter Louisa with elderly Bounderby Bounderby personifies utilitarian theory in business and factory As a banker and industrialist by profession, he symbolizes lust for money and the consequent cruelty towards his ‘hands’ in the mad run to possess more wealth. He considers even the necessary and claimed demands of his workmen as their demand for turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon; he dismisses Stephen without the least reluctance.

Gradgrind and Bounderby are entirely Different from Each other

      Though both Gradgrind and Bounderby embody the utilitarian theory with its persistence on the practical faces of things and its chase of money as an end in itself yet they are different from each other in a remarkable manner, so that each becomes a living peculiar personality in his own. Although they are intimate friends and both are depicted as being entirely divorced off human emotions, yet they widely differ from one another. Gradgrind is kind to a certain degree in spite of being a steadfast believer of facts and figures. His offer to provide protection to Sissy whose father has deserted her is a good instance of his feeling of sympathy Moreover, he is flexible enough to change his opinions when the worst consequences of his theory befall on him. The misfortune of both Louisa and Tom, who faced suffering in different ways are the worst consequences of Gradgrind’s principle of education. They make Gradgrind’s eyes open to the errors of his theory so that we perceive him as repentant, at the end of the novel. On the other hand Bounderby does not change but remains to the last what he was at the beginning. He is adamant and obdurate. In addition to be exposed to everybody as a false, hypocrite by his housekeeper unknowingly he remains unabashed and unembarrassed till the end. He is entirely divorced off any human emotion or sentiment. He is distinguished in another aspect also from Gradgrind. He is a windbag that Gradgrind is not; but he is a braggart not in the conventional sense. He brags in reverse, like he boasts of his ‘humble origin’. Very accurately Dickens has called him the “bully of humility.” His attitude towards his housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit is also one of his distinctive features; he elevates her background as much as he degrades his own. Ruskin remarks that Bounderby has been exaggerated and thus he does not seem real and convincing but a dramatic devil. As aforesaid, the exaggeration in Bounderby’s portraiture can not be ignored. For Bounderby there is nothing impossible, he is a bully fraud who declares himself as a self-made man, he is utterly unsympathetic, inhuman, and selfish. Critic has remarked that England has plenty of Bounderbys. In fact we should say the entire world is replete with so many Bounderbys. He is definitely not an unrealistic character to believe.

The Peculiarities of Harthouse

      James Harthouse is another instrument that is used to criticize utilitarian theory but he also has his own identity He is a character bored with life, and he joins the “Hard Fact Fellows” to lessen his lot of boredom. He joins it not due to any real convictions or beliefs. The other distinctive features of this character are an “assumed honesty in dishonesty” and his reference to motto “what will be, will be”. He is also made different from others through getting an escape from his boredom in running after a married woman. His utilitarian attitude is conspicuous from the fact that he runs after Louisa without feeling any affection for her.

Mrs. Sparsit: An Individual

      Utilitarianism that is the fundamental principle of Gradgrind gets reflected in Mrs. Sparsit, Tom and Bitzer. They are all branches of this particular theory that consciously cuts out the other human emotions like affection, kindness and gratitude. It is not easy to say which of these three personalities is the worst morally But. undoubtedly each is entirely different from the others and each has his or her own peculiar quality Mrs. Sparsit always boasts of her high connections and aristocratic background that she never forgets to mention at the least important opportunity. She speaks and behaves too earnestly and respectfully to her employer, but in privacy while standing in front of his portrait shakes her fist and contemptuously calls him a “noodle”. After Bounderby’s marriage with Louisa, once she gets involved in a good work of searching out the culprit who had assisted in bank robbery, but it leads to her dismissal of job. Her attitude torwards workers is very callous and she is called by the Coketown people the dragon in Bounderby’s bank.

Tom’s Individuality

      The principle of utilitarianism in Tom takes a different shape. In order to reimburse himself for the inflexibility of his early upbringing, he starts leading a life of passion and pleasure. He begins to entertain himself through gambling. In order to pay his heavy debts, he is forced to rob the bank of his employer and brother-in-law. When he justifies his action later in the story after being discovered as guilty he uses the teachings of his own father who had also always made him learn facts and calculations. He says: “I don’t see why so many people are employed in situations of trust; so many people, out of so many; will be dishonest. I have heard you talk, a hundred times, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things, father. Comfort yourself.”

The Individual Character of Bitzer

      Bitzer is absolutely different from other characters. Tom has the habit of spending lavishly but Bitzer saves a lot. Bitzer’s chief principle is self-interest as it is taught in his school days. To go ahead in life, he keeps aside all the gratitude; he regards life as a bargain. He has learned Gradgrind’s theory to which “every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter.” Finally, he does achieve that desired post in the bank.

Louisa: An Individual

      Louisa, though she also represents utilitarianism and has been brought up according to that principle yet she soon starts repenting over her decision to marry Bounderby. She feels Harthouse’s soft inclination towards herself. She starts entertaining the thought of seeking escape from her husband through her lover’s help. But, however the womanly virtue prevails upon her and she returns to her father’s home instead of eloping with Harthouse.

The Peculiarities of Stephen and Rachael

      According to few critics both Stephen and Rachael are the representatives of goodness and silent suffering. But they are individuals also. Stephen is not representing the workman; because he has refused to join their union. Rachael’s character is revealed to us in several episodes—her Snatching away the bottle of poison from Stephen’s drunken wife; Aer enthusiastic defence of Stephen when he is humiliated by Bounderby; her reaction after seeing Stephen’s hat at the edge of chasm; her cordial relation with Sissy etc.

The Individuality of Sissy and Mr. Sleary

      Sissy represents everything against utilitarian theory. Though she has been taught in Gradgrind’s model school yet she fails to put that into practice. Despite she is an individual also. Sissy’s faith in her father never shakes. Her devotion for Gradgrind’s family is unquestionable. Her initiative in persuading Bounderby to quit Coketown and her action to help Tom in escaping from the law’s consequences are not within the limits of being a symbolic figure. Mr. Sleary who is credible of stating the moral is another peculiar character, very much convincing and real. His lisping manner, his being partly drunk, partly sober, all lay the peculiarity to him.

      To sum up, though almost all the characters of Hard Times are symbolical yet they are given individual characteristics also. They seem real, convincing and not birds of the same feather but distinct and peculiar.

University Questions

‘‘Dickens’ characters derive their life from the fact that they do reveal a certain aspect of human nature in its individuality.” Discuss with references to Hard Times.
Or
Write a critical note on Dickens’ art of characterization in Hard Times.
Or
Give your views on Dickens’ success of creating individual and living characters in Hard Times.

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