Materialism in The Novel Hard Times

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      Hard Times deals with the condemnation of principles of industrialism. Dickens is callously against industrial capitalism. In Hard Times he condemns not the policy of an individual but the social evils. Shaw observes: “This is Karl Marx, Carlyle, Ruskin, Morris, Carpenter, rising up against civilization itself as a disease, and declaring that it is not our disorder but our order that is horrible; that it is that is not our criminals but our magnates that are robbing and murdering us.....Here you will find no more villains and heroes, but only oppressors and victims, oppressing and suffering in spite of themselves, driven by a huge machinery which grinds to pieces the people it should nourish and ennoble, and having for its directors the basest and most foolish of us instead of the most far-sighted”. Shaw believes that what Dickens started has now expanded into a passionate revolt against the complete industrial order of the modern world. The philosophy that was ruling over the model school of Gradgrind is governing Coketown and its industries. His philosophy of ‘facts’ is only the violent outcome of the inhuman spirit of Victorian materialism. In Gradgrind, though obnoxious it is honest and disinterested; Bounderby is an industrialist full of greed for power and material progress.

      It is said that Dickens has not properly dealt with the industrial scene and the character of Stephen Blackpool, symbol of workmen. But we should not draw this conclusion out of it that he was devoid of sympathy for the ‘hands’. Soon after the conclusion of Hard Times Dickens had to appeal to working men to thrust reforms from the government. Hard Times itself expresses his resentful sympathy for the partiality under which the ‘Hands’ suffered and is aggressive in its reproachment of Bounderby’s career and the philosophy of Gradgrind. Thus Hard Times is the novel in which the passionate revolt of Dickens against materialism, Laissez-faire and utilitarianism gets manifested very precisely.

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