Utilitarianism Philosophy & Laissez-faire in Hard Tinies

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Attack on the Fundamental Assumptions of Industrial England

      J.W. Beach has pointed out that in Hard Times Dickens attacks on the fundamental principles, the characteristic ideology of industrial England. J.W. Beach states, this novel is a dramatisation of what Carlyle took to be the meaning of utilitarianism and of the orthodox liberal system of Laissez-faire. The novel conspicuously reflects the role of Dickens as a critic of social strictures and as a social reformer.

The Definition of Utilitarianism and Laissez-faire.

      Jeremy Bentham (1948-1832) is the founder of the theory of “Utilitarianism”. He said that society should have the purpose to give greatest happiness to greatest number. Bentham is of the view that the goal of life is happiness. This philosophy of happiness makes a prompt appeal to the shallow kind of thinking which is called common sense. It was this happiness philosophy that came to be called “Utilitarianism” because it emphasised the value of material goods and seemed to avoid completely the moral and spiritual requirements of human beings. According to this philosophy, if the lot of happiness secured was equal, then gambling was as good as poetry. It meant also that the happiness of an entirely selfish life was equal to or even greater than, the happiness of an unselfish life. To the theory that society and its laws should target at the greatest number, Bentham included the second principle, every man was the best examiner of his own interests. This second principle led to the invention of a policy that came to be called laissez-faire. According to laissez-faire people should be left free to work for themselves.

Self-satisfaction and Greed for Money are also Attacked

      The principle utilitarianism was bitterly criticized by thinkers like Carlyle who were the staunch believers in the moral and spiritual values of life. The theory of laissez-faire also becomes a term of degradation according to the socialism because it stood for the governmental refusal to intrude in the matter of social justice to defend the weak against the powerful, and to permit individuals to gratify their own selfish interests. Hard Times reflects Dickens’ contempt for both utilitarianism and laissez-faire. Dickens also has attacked on the selfcomplacency which was a remarkable feature of Victorian society. Dickens has satirically treated the lust for money which, according to him, was the root of most of all the evils. In novels like Dombey and son, Our Mutual Friend, Great Expectations, this thought of money finds an equally forceful expression.

Gradgrind, the Personification of Utilitarianism

      Dickens has made two characters, Gradgrind and Bounderby; in the novel Hard Times to represent the utilitarian principle. They are the leading characters of the novel. Gradgrind’s principle of education is based upon his utilitarian attitude to life. He emphasizes the importance of facts and does not give least importance to feelings, emotions and imagination. He wants to develop the reasoning faculty of his students and for that purpose he appoints the new schoolmaster to teach facts and facts only. Anything except fact should be erased from the pupils’ mind, Gradgrind is a man of realities, he is a man of facts and calculations, and believes that two and two make four and nothing else. Gradgrind, an “eminently practical man” walks keeping a rule, a pair of scales, and the multiplication table in his pocket because he believes that human beings are matters of facts and figures. He calls Sissy “girl number twenty” and he thinks that her definition of horse must tell the facts like number of animal’s feet, teeth and likewise account. Sissy’s first hand knowledge of horse is worthless for Gradgrind. Pupils should not use their imagination and for this reason carpets must not have picture of flowers on them; wall-paper must not have the representations of flowers. The new schoolmaster is himself the personification of facts and has great knowledge about facts pertaining to several branches of knowledge. Dickens severely criticizes this kind of schoolmaster when he tells about him: “If he had only learned a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.” Gradgrind’s house ‘Stone Lodge’ is even constructed on the theory of facts and he looks forward to “making an arithmetical figure in Parliament.” He rears up his own issues according to his theory of education. Being an entirely practical man, he does not allow them to learn nursery rhymes; he does not allow them to see anyone’s face in the moon; he always remains very much conscious to suppress their natural instincts. He regards circus as insignificant and bitterly scolds his “metallurgical Louisa” and his “mathematical Tom” for being curious to know about circus. These children are brought up only upon facts and are never given the opportunity to develop their emotions and imagination. We should not feel amazed to find Tom sick of the life as he has been forced to lead under his roof and looks forward to the day when he will compensate for what he is not provided. Mrs. Gradgrind is also like her husband and believes in bringing up his children according to the principle of facts. She always says her children to be “somethingological”. Gradgrind is so utilitarian that even in the matter of his daughter’s marriage with elderly Bounderby, he does not pay any attention to Louisa’s feelings. He thinks statistically about it and concludes that the disparity between their age should be ignored. Dickens has very powerfully attacked on Gradgrind’s utilitarianism when he (Gradgrind) and Louisa have the conversation on the topic of marrying Bounderby.

Bounderby: An Embodiment of Utilitarianism and Laissez-faire

      Bounderby, a manufacturer and banker is another personification of the theory of utilitarianism. He also explains the principle of laissez-faire. Bounderby is depicted as a “man perfectly devoid of sentiment.” At few occasions while Gradgrind shows human feelings, for example, when he offers to give protection to Sissy whose father had abandoned her, he is given the touch of human emotions and feelings also. At the end of the novel Gradgrind is converted and becomes a man full of human feelings and emotions but Bounderby remains till end what he was at the beginning. Bounderby is a man “made out of a coarse material”; he frequently boasts of his being a self-made man; he considers his workmen as instruments and medium to become rich. Bounderby is proud of having a house-keeper of high connections and aristocratic background. He does not fail anytime in exalting this lady’s background and to boast on his humble origin. He is regardless to the needs and demands of his workmen because he thinks that they would never be satisfied with anything less than turtle soup and venison, with gold spoon. His attitude towards Stephen, when he comes to him for seeking guidance on how to get rid of his drunkard wife and when he is called to spy on worker’s activities on Bounderby’g behalf, he shows his utmost ruthlessness. He dismisses Stephen from employment without considering that he has put him to starve, though Bounderby himself recognized Stephen as a “steady hand”. For him wealth is everything; and Dickens has criticized, him for this matter. He calls the smoke of industrial Coketown as “meat and drink”, the healthiest thing in the world for all aspects and particularly for the lungs. The boresome labor of the workers is regarded by him as “the pleasantest work there is, the lightest work there is and the best-paid work there is.” He never gives a single thought to improve the working conditions of his factory-labourers. The only possible improvement is to lay down Turkey carpets on the floors of the factories. Thus Dickens has most bitterly criticized utilitarian philosophy through the portraiture of Bounderby

Harthouse’s Character: His Relation with Louisa

      Utilitarianism is further illustrated by the character of James Harthouse. He has tried his hand in different fields of life but very soon felt bored. Eventually through the help of Gradgrind he joins the group of “Hard Fact Fellows” of whom Gradgrind is one of the chief representatives. Harthouse does not trust in the virtues like benevolence, kindness, humanity or philanthropy His attitude is one of “assumed honesty in dishonesty”. When he reaches Coketown and sees Louisa, he finds her suitable as an object of his planned contest. He goes to solve his purpose by using all the devices and strategy he can think of. The noteworthy point in the whole matter is that he is not truly in love with Louisa. He is utterly incapable of feeling any pure or deep sentiment; he chases her merely as a sport; he is an exclusive product of the kind of utilitarian philosophy that was prevailing upon Victorian society.

Louisa’s Life Ruined by her Father’s Utilitarian Theory

      The biting criticism of utilitarianism is implied also to the life of Louisa and Tom whose life were wrecked by Gradgrind’s philosophy of utilitarianism. Louisa agrees to marry Bounderby because of her father’s rational treatment of Bounderby’s marriage proposal. She herself has the utilitarian motive in prompting the interests of her brother who is working in the bank of Bounderby Though Louisa contempts Bounderby but she agrees to marry for the benefit of her brother. Louisa is not capable of asserting herself against her father’s philosophy because her capacity for self-assertion has been trampled by the long time training to which she has been put in her home ‘Stone Lodge’ and in her father’s model school especially made to teach ‘facts’, and ‘facts’ only. When Harthouse has started giving compliments to her, Louisa’s reaction and to it is thus described by Dickens: “Upon a nature long accustomed to self-suppression, the Harthouse philosophy came as a relief and justification.” Later, Louisa finds her life completely destroyed. She puts all the responsibility to her father, and Mr. Gradgrind accepts his responsibility.

Tom is trying to justify Himself on the Grounds of Utilitarian Statistics

      Tom is swayed by evil forces as reacting against the uncompromising and unyielding process and theory under which he has been brought up. In order to compensate himself, he goes to the extent of being involved in immoral evil deeds. He robs the bank of Bounderby his brother in law. His life is also wrecked and the remarkable point is how he explains his conduct. Tom says to his father: “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 it being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things father. Comfort yourself.” This is the most severe possible ironic commentary on the kind of statistics that Gradgrind was used to apply.

Bitzer: The Ideal Model of Utilitarian Theory

      Bitzer is another example of the destructive results of the utilitarian approach to life. Bitzer has grown into a young man completely devoid of feelings and sentiments; he is not even ready to marry in order to rear a family; he has his faith in most inflexible economy. He does not only save his Christmas gratuity but also saves certain money regularly from his salary. Besides, his dominating principle is the self interest. He does everything to gratify his selfish motive and to benefit himself. He wanted to gain promotion in the bank, and for this purpose he does not mind to sacrifice Tom in the hands of Bounderby whose bank was robbed by him (Tom). When Gradgrind says Bitzer to recall that he has got education at his school, Bitzer unsympathetically replies that he has paid for what he has been educated. It was a bargain that had finished with his leaving that school. At this occasion also, Dickens makes an ironic commentary on Gradgind’s theory of utilitarianism. According to that principle everything is paid for, nobody is ever to give others anything without any price, gratitude is to be erased and all the existence of mankind from birth to death is a bargain. This is the kind of approach to life that is the outcome of the influence and practice of utilitarianism.

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