Symbolism of Morality in The Novel Hard Times

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      Though it is not apt to regard an artistic work of literature a morality play or moral fable yet we find justifiable to call Hard Times a moral fable because it is written with emphatic and forceful moral intention. Hard Times is a passionate attack on the abuses and evils of Victorian society Satire and irony are skilfully implied to impart the moral in the novel because both are meant to reform, to correct and to expose the falsehood and vices.

Characters Symbolical of certain Moral Characteristics

      In order to impart a concrete shape to his moral notes, Dickens uses the characters as symbols in the novel because both are meant to reform, to correct and to expose the falsehood and vices.

Characters Symbolical of Certain Moral Characteristics

      Almost all the characters in Hard Times are personifications of certain principle and concept whether good or evil. Actually there are two categories of symbolic characters. One represents few adverse characteristics of Victorian life and another symbolizes certain moral traits. These characters bad and good, (of both categories) are put in front of each other and in this vis-a-vis or confrontation lies the interest of the novel. These characters of Hard Times are like the dramatis personae of a morality play The characters are allegorical in their role and nature. But this novel is also different from a morality play or moral fable in one remarkable respect. The characters of a morality play or moral fable are genuinely personifications of certain traits, good or evil, but in Hard Times in spite of the characters being symbolical of certain good or evil characters, they are also individuals, having their own identity All the characters are portrayed to exist as distinct individuals, not on the same pattern of other character. Their individuality and symbolic role both can not be questioned on any ground.

The Group of Evil Characters

      All the characters of this group represent certain abuses, evils and destructive institutions and few vices. Through the characters, Dickens has passionately attacked on the evils and abuses. These characters receive the reader’s hatred and contempt. For example, Gtadgrind symbolizes the utilitarian principle of education. His immoderate stress on facts and calculations, and his whole negligence and disregard for the importance of instincts, sentiments, fancy or tenderness of heart make him a personification of certain principle of education that results in the disaster, in the plight of his daughter’s and son’s life. Bounderby the banker and industrialist is a symbol of the utilitarian economic principle and the philosophy of Laissez-faire that is treated in the Victorian age. This man symbolizes lust for money and crude inhumanity in real practice. The activities of this man are governed by selfishness; he is deserted by only kindness and sympathy for his workers whose least requirements are regarded by him as demand for turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. His dismissal of Stephen presents him to be most eccentric sort of employer. Another character is of Louisa who becomes an abode of the plight to which a human being may be put as a result of the flawed manner of upbringing. She says to her father that as it has been “my task from infancy to strive against every natural prompting that has arisen in my heart; if you had known that there lingered in my breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses capable of being cherished into strength defying all the calculations ever made by man, and no more known to his arithmetic than his creator is,—would you have given me to the husband whom I am now sure that I hate?” She further says, “All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me.” Tom Gradgrind also represents the harmful consequences of the particular educational theory of Gradgrind. He starts taking enjoyment in gambling to compensate the strict monotonous and utterly reasonable atmosphere of his house. He has to commit robbery to pay his debts and further he is compelled to leave his country in order to escape from the bad consequences of law. The best and perfect model of Gradgrind’s theory of education is Bitzer who considers everything in terms of bargain and sale. He is fully ruled by the principle of self-interest. He says to Gradgrind that he is not feeling any gratitude for getting education at his school because he was paid for what he had given. Mrs. Sparsit is also symbolical in her role. She represents the vanity hypocrisy and snobbery.

      Thus all the characters except Louisa are made to look not only ridiculous but detestable and foolish. We hate them for their want of human sympathy and their narrow-mindedness. It is true that Gradgrind is forgiven on particularly two grounds. First for giving protection to Sissy in his house because her father has deserted her, and secondly for feeling repentant and realizing the immensity of the drawbacks of his educational theory. But his argument with Louisa to prepare her for the marriage with elderly Bounderby on the grounds of only utilitarian philosophy and statistics is a step that he can not be corrected or amended later on. The damage done to Louisa is beyond any repair. Bounderby magnifies his utilitarian philosophy by his braggrat and fictitious story regarding his past life. He is entirely divorced off human sentiments and emotions. He very callously even treats his mother. Mrs. Sparsit can also be called a villain. She is abominable and disgusting because of her hypocrisy and snobbery. She never looses any opportunity to refer to her aristocratic background and high connections. Though she behaves very earnestly and respectfully in front of her employer yet in his absence, while standing in front of his portrait she calls him a “noodle”. She secretly keeps watch upon all the activities in Bounderby’s house especially between Louisa and Harthouse. James Harthouse’s idiosyncrasy in referring “honesty in dishonesty”, his feeling of boredom in several aspects of life and his looking for distraction through pursuing Louisa in order to flirt with her, all these are witnesses of his being a repulsive figure. Tom’s ingratitude towards Louisa who is too affectionate and who has decided to marry Bounderby in order to benefit him, his lack of the sense of discriminating between right and wrong immensely displeases us and we feel happy to read that poetic justice is done to him.

The Moral Conveyed through the Vices in Characters

      These exposure of the evil traits in several characters make the novel Hard Times full of morality. We feel abhorrence for the kind of educational theory under which Tom and Louisa are brought up. Gragrind himself realizes it and says, “that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. I have not supposed so, but as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient...If the other kind of wisdom should be what I have neglected, and should be the instinct that is wanted, Louisa”. We feel hatred not only for the utilitarian philosophy but for Laissez-faire also that feeds only the motive to gain profit and that gives no place to sympathy for the workers. We are filled with detest for all the evils these characters symbolize—selfishness, snobbery, hypocriey, inhumanity, greed, eccentricity etc. A moral fable exposes the vices in such a manner as to make the reader detest them. Hard Times is successful in this respect.

The Virtues of Stephen and Rachael

      There are few characters who represent certain moral traits which make us to praise them. First of all, there is Stephen and Rachael. They are both generous and full of humanity. In comparison Rachael is even more good than Stephen. Though Stephen has not joined worker’s union yet he favors them in front of Bounderby who wishes to use him as an informer to tell him the inner activities of the workers of trade union but he denies to do that, and in return receives his dismissal from the job. Thus, Stephen is more sincere and true well-wisher of the workers, he is not dishonest, shrewd and self-important like Slackbridge. He does not have the habit of speaking with inflated rhetoric. When Stephen finds himself unable to get rid of his sinister drunken wife he does not use any cruel or crooked method to keep himself away from her, all that he does is to remark the life as “a muddle”. Rachael is unquestionably a noble woman, she is so great that she saves the life of Stephen’s wife. She snatches the bottle from her hands, that she was about to drink under the impression of alcohol. A critic has said that these two persons are too good to believe, or to be true. Stephen’s passivity when his wife was about to drink poison complicates his character because of its being contrary to Rachael’s instant action of snatching and throwing away the bottle from her hands.

Sissy: The Symbol of Good

      Sissy is an embodiment of goodness and vitality in Hard Times as a moral fable. Her character is in contrast to calculating self interest and utilitarianism. Dickens has very tactfully conveyed the influence of Sissy on the family of Gradgrind. She does not only attentively and devotedly looks after Mrs. Gradgrind but she establishes a harmony between herself and Jane, Gradgrind’s youngest daughter. Her most important service rendered to Gradgrind’s family was her initiative in making Harthouse to quit Coketown, and the way she helps Tom to escape from the worse consequences of law. Gradgrind and his family is saved only through the non-utilitarian pupil of his school who is given shelter in the house of Gradgrind.

Circus: Symbolical of Art and “Humanity”

      The role of circus and its people are very important rather indispensable in the fabric of this novel that is regarded as a moral fable. The circus people represent not only art but humanity also. They are personifications of those simple virtues of sympathy and helpfulness to others for which Gradgrind’s philosophy is useless and Bounderby’s stone-heart, has no scope. There is noteworthy goodness about these circus people, a special skill for any kind of sympathetic to each other. We highly admire Mr. Sleary’s action in
co-operating with Gradgrind for making Tom able to escape from Bitzer’s hold.

The Moral Note

      Thus we see two opposite groups confronting each other in the novel—the group where lives generous people, and in other group lives rationalized, greedy people. Gradgrind is dashed to the ground because of his philosophy entirely devoid of emotion, sentiments, imagination or fancy. It is due. to his blindness to the importance of Heart, that Louisa and Tom suffer a lot. But it is his realization of the flaws of his philosophy that make him able to save his family.

Mr. Sleary: The Mouthpiece of Supreme Moral

      Mr. Sleary is presented to convey the moral in the novel Hard Times. After informing Gradgrind about the death of Sissy’s father, he says that world has also that kind of love which is not self-interest at all. That is something different from selfish love. This unselfish love has its own manner of calculating and not calculating. This is the greatest moral note in Hard Times. In these few words we find the denouement of all that Gradgrind, Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit represent, and glorification of what Rachael and Stephr a symbolize. Thus the novel has firm reasons to be called it a moral fable.

Coketown: A Symbol

      Coketown itself is used to represent industrial dirt, smoke, squalid, monotonous and mechanical life, which the “hands” are forced to lead under the system highly influenced by utilitarianism and laissez-faire. Almost every passage that deals with the town or its people are written in satirical manner. They have some moral purpose behind.

Direct Expression of Moral

      In Hard Times, there are few passages of direct moralizing, that forms the ground to regard it a moral fable. For example, Dickens warns the “commissioners of fact” and the utilitarian economists that if they do not care for the emotions of the poor people, reality will take an unexpected turn and make an end of everything. Dickens has also ironically commented upon the influence of Gradgrind’s system of education on Bitzer’s character and here, the novelist offers a moral. At the end of the novel also, Dickens comments upon the ultimate fate of every character, the good is rewarded and bad is punished.

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