Laissez-faire: in The Novel Hard Times

Also Read

      The fundamental thought of Laissez faire is the freedom to act for themselves. For the study of Hard Times attractive point to notice is the manner through which “practical” is ceased to mean simple or “down to earth”.

      Adam Smith has formulated the policy of Laissez-faire in his well-known book, The Wealth of Nation published in 1776. This’ famous work propounded the theory of economy according to which nations have the right to go for free trade. According to this theory, industrialist could control their own business without interference either from Government or workers. In accordance with the economic theory the countries can make rapid progress. Adam Smith also has theorized the policy of elementary education on the Scottish pattern. This theory became popular throughout Europe. Dickens’ character Gradgrind was in the favour of this theory but the novelist has criticized this educational philosophy.

      Laissez-faire theory stresses capitalism. As an individual can work without government’s interference, he can easily become a capitalist. Dickens has criticized capitalism because the rich are becoming richer and leading highly aristocratic life. The poors are totally ignored. Bounderby, the industrialist, is used to criticize the labor class because they were making hue and crying at the aristocratic manners of the capitalists. Characters like Bounderby were representing the rich businessmen of the Industrial Revolution who were ignoring the rights of poor people, Bounderby criticizes the ‘hands’ that they want “to be set up in a coach and six and to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoor!”; the hands “were a bad lot altogether, gentlemen”, “restless”, “never knew what they wanted”, “lived upon the best, and bought fresh butter; and insisted on Mocha coffee, and rejected all but prime parts of meat, and yet were eternally dissatisfied and unmanageable.”

      Dickens observes, the Coketown industrialists were always representing themselves as ruined: “They were ruined, when they were required to send laboring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke... Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used—that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts—he was sure to come out with the awful menace that he would ‘sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic’. However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but, on the contrary, had been kind enough to make mighty food care of it.”

      The workmen have excommunicated Stephen Blackpool for not joining their union and dismissed by Bounderby for daring to defend their stands. Stephen is left all isolated. He is discarded from his community and also dismissed from his own job by his employer. Here Dickens has made Stephen his mouthpiece to reveal the miserable life of laborers. “Look round town—so rich as it is—and see the numbers O’ people as has been brought into bein heer, for to weave and to card, and to piece out a livin’, aw the same one way; somehows, twixt their cradles and their graves. Look how we live, and where we live, an in what numbers, an by what chances, and wi’ what sameness; and look how the mill is awlus a goin, and how they never works us no nigher to any dis’ant object— ‘ceptin awlus Death.”

      Through Stephen too, Dickens has criticized Laissez-faire and the venomous division it creates in society. Towards the end Dickens seems to give a prophetic warning to the “Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact, genteel and used-up infidels, gabblers of many little dog’s cared creeds”, for fear that “in the day of (their) triumph, when romance is utterly driven out” of the souls of laborers (poor) “and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn, and make an end of you.”

Previous Post Next Post