Essay on Utilitarianism and Industrial Revolution

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The ugliness of Industrialism in Hard Times by Charles Dickens

In his novel Hard Times Charles Dickens represents capitalist greed, the fragile education system, and the inhuman treatment of factory workers in a realistic perspective which were happening in Victorian in the 19th century.


Charles Dickens is a quite well-known novelist of the Victorian Era credited with many voluminous novels. When we look at his novels one striking quality appears which is that no matter what the subject is Dickens places a mirror within his novels that reflects the social life of his time and thus, he succeeds in bringing us to his day and makes us feel the age that it reflects. Hard Times one of the best novels of Charles Dickens is relatively a shorter book compared with other novels and can be regarded as one of the best mirrors written in 1854. The book has quite an earlier background when Charles Dickens took a trip to industrial towns 15 years ago before writing his piece. He had a chance to see the industrial town with all its problems such as urban blight and environmental problems that came along with the industrial revolution such as the wrong implementation of utilitarianism among society and class divisions occured due to the unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor. We learn from his letter to his wife that he had planned to write a book in which he meant to strike the heaviest blow in his power. Thus we come across with many problems that occured due to the industrial revolution both individually and socially among the society and its members in the novel Hard Times. Majorly, unitarianism, the poor condition of the working classes, and the capitalist order occupy a more significant place in the novel.

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In Hard Times Dickens attacks the industrial evils practiced during his age. The novel Hard Times contains a vivid picture of the ugliness of industrialism which was raising its head in the Victorian age. Coke town represents all industrial towns and is described as a town of machines. Dickens not only attacks industrial evils but also portrays capitalism and factory owners' inhuman behavior. Dickens suggests in Hard Times that citizens, specifically the lower class, were becoming dehumanized as a result of the Industrial Revolution. This dehumanization can be seen through Gradgrinds and Bounderby's attempt to suppress the expression of emotions and imagination within the factory, the school, and the home. The description of the workers at Bounderby's factory demonstrates how machines as they have become. The Industrial Revolution gave birth to a capitalist system that breeds economic imbalance and gives birth to capitalist greed.

Dickens shows the dehumanizing aspect of the industrial revolution in urban Victorian society, social criticism saw the novel as a passionate revolt where there were no villains or heroes but only oppressors and victims, and the culprit if there is one was the industrial revolution.  

According to that information, each of the major elements used by Charles Dickens to reflect the ugliness of industrialism and the social condition of the age will be examined by applying the realistic approach in this very paper.

Research Question

How does Dickens highlight the negative effect of industrialization in Victorian?

    • Research Objective
    • To Highlight the inhuman treatment of the factory workers by the industry owners in Victorian society.
    • To Highlight the fragile education system of Victorian.
    • To Highlight the ugliness in Victorian because of industrialization.

Significance of the study

This research paper will help students understand the novel Hard Times and also help students understand Victorian society and the negative effects of industrialization.

Delimitation of the study

The present research will be limited to analyzing the text of the novel Hard Times by applying the realistic approach.

Theoretical framework

This research analyzes the first research question about the negative effect of industrialism through the analysis of Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times.

The research study is based on the theory of Literary realism. Literary realism is a literary movement that represents reality by portraying mundane, everyday experiences as they are in real life. It depicts familiar people, places, and stories, primarily about the middle and lower classes of society. Literary realism seeks to tell a story as truthfully as possible instead of dramatizing or romanticizing it.

The understudy research will focus on Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times from a realistic perspective. The story of Hard Times circulates the stance of the industrial revolution and the ugliness the iIndustrial Revolutionbrought to Victorian.

Literature Review

The Litchart magazine in his recent blog analyzes several themes of Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times including the ugliness of Industrialism which is the prominent part of this novel he says, 'Hand in hand with the glorification of data and numbers and facts in the schoolhouse is the treatment of the workers in the factories of Coketown as nothing more than machines, which produce so much per day and are not thought of as having feelings or families or dreams. Dickens depicts this situation as a result of industrialization; now that towns like Coketown are focused on producing more and more, more dirty factories are built, more smoke pollutes the air and water, and the factory owners only see their workers as part of the machines that bring them profit. The workers are only called 'Hands', an indication of how objectified they are by the owners. Similarly, Mr. Gradgrind's children were brought up to be 'minds'. None of them are people or 'hearts'.

As the book progresses, it portrays how industrialism creates conditions in which owners treat workers as machines and workers respond by unionizing to resist and fight back against the owners. In the meantime, those in Parliament (like Mr. Gradgrind, who winds up elected to office) work for the benefit of the country but not its people. In short, industrialization creates an environment in which people cease to treat either others or themselves as people. Even the unions, the groups of factory workers who fight against the injustices of the factory owners, are not shown in a good light. Stephen Blackpool, a poor worker at Bounderby's factory, is rejected by his fellow workers for his refusal to join the union because of a promise made to the sweet, good woman he loves, Rachael. His factory union then treats him as an outcast.

The remedy to industrialism and its evils in the novel is found in Sissy Jupe, the little girl who was brought up among circus performers and fairy tales. Letting loose the imagination of children lets loose their hearts as well, and, as Sissy does, they can combat and undo what a Gradgrind education produces.

Data analysis

Dickens' social commentary, 'Hard Times', explores the destructive impact of industrialization on humanity in a period of unprecedented economic change. Dickens realistically represents his era to his reader as the 19th century the Industrial Revolution was in full swing because of the Industrial Revolution the Victorian saw many changes, some good and some bad. In this novel Dickens only realistically talks about the negative effects of industrialization. Dickens based most of the characters in his novel on real people. Most of the characters are meant to represent the entirety of the groups they belong to. Nevertheless not only do the characters represent a real counterpart, but Coketown also represents a real element. In his novel Hard Times Dickens mentioned three main problems of the Victorian brought about by the Industrial Revolution: number one The fragile education system number second the wrong implementation of utilitarianism in society and number three the capitalist greed and the inhuman treatment of the factory owner.  

The Fragile Education System

'Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my children, and this is the principle on which bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!'

Dickens depicts a terrifying system of education where facts, facts, and nothing but facts are pounded into the schoolchildren all day, and where memorization of information is valued over art, imagination, or anything creative. This results in some very warped human beings. Mr. Thomas Gradgrind believes completely in this system, and as a superintendent of schools and a father, he makes sure that all the children at the schools he is responsible for, and especially his children are brought up knowing nothing but data and '-ologies'.

As a result, things go very badly for his children, Tom Gradgrind and Louisa Gradgrind. Since they, as children, were always treated as if they had minds and not hearts, their adulthoods are warped, as they have no way to access their feelings or connect with others. Tom is a sulky good-for-nothing and gets involved in a crime to pay off gambling debts. Louisa is unhappy when she follows her mind, not her heart, and marries Mr. Bounderby, her father's friend. As a result of her unhappy marriage, she is later swept off her feet by a young gentleman, Mr. James 'Jem' Harthouse, who comes to stay with them and who seems to understand and love her. Louisa nearly comes to ruin by running off with Harthouse. Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe was encouraged when she was little to dream and imagine and loved her father dearly, and therefore she is in touch with her heart and feelings and has empathy and emotional strength the other children lack. Sissy, adopted by the Gradgrinds when her father abandons her, ultimately is the savior of the family in the end.

Inhuman treatment of factory owners.

In Hard Times Dickens sharply criticizes and realistically represents the poor living conditions of the working class in industrial towns. He depicts life in a fictitious industrial town Coketown as a symbol for a typical industrial town in the Northern of that time. It is a place full of exploitation, desperation, and oppression. Soot and ash are all over the town; it is a dirty and suffocating place.

The workers have low wages and work long hours. The work begins before sunrise, the production is important and there is no regard for the rights and suffering of the lower class.  

In Coketown, machines cause great pollution. Industrial workers have no chance of progress in life. The upper middle class ignores their misery (Bounderby) and denies imagination and creativity (Gradgrind).

The factory owners call their workers Hand means they are part of the machine.

The novel Hard Times contains vivid pictures of the ugliness of industrialism which was raising its head in the Victorian Age. Coketown is described as a town of machines since the people living in the same town are supposed to have souls. Instead, they all go in and out at the same hours, with the same purpose upon the same pavements, to do the same work. These pictures express the monotony of the workmen's life in the Victorian Age. As the Victorian Age was assumed as an age of Industrialism and Capitalism, the workmen were not men at all; they were 'hands ', so many hundred hands, 'So many hundred horse steam power '. These men are not supposed to have any souls; they are hands who have to work upon 'the crashing, smashing, tearing mechanisms, day in and day out '. Industrial towns now give importance to human beings for their competence to work and generate income, therefore the towns are like machines where materials are used, fuel is consumed and money is made. It is the fact that the man who makes money through the labor of these hands regards the smoke of the chimneys as meat and drink for the capitalist.

Capitalist Greed

The Industrial Revolution gave birth to capitalist greed Dickens not only attacked the industrial evils of his time but also portrayed capitalism and factory owners inhuman. As a manufacturer, Bounderby adopts an arrogant attitude towards the workmen and does not feel the least sympathy for them in their troubles or their desire for a better life. He always expresses the view that these workmen want 'to ride in a coach drawn by six horses and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon '. His treatment of the workmen shows a mechanical mind; he looks upon the workmen as so many hundred 'hands ', so many hundred horse steam power. Although Dickens tries to convey to us all the ugliness of the factories and the industrial town.


Utilitarianism is the philosophy that leaves nothing to the imagination; everything is to be explained with the help of logic and facts. The goal of every individual should be to receive the most pleasure out of life. Utilitarianism intercedes for utility, well-being, and pleasure in life. From the beginning of the novel, Dickens introduces us to the utilitarian way of thinking. Gradgrind and Bounderby are the most outstanding representatives of utilitarian philosophy.

Children are taught factual school from an early age (Louisa, Tom, Bitzer). Gradgrind thinks that only facts are important in every situation,e.g. for him love is not the major issue in marriage. Louisa gets free of the fact school in the end, but cannot stand up to the world of fancy and imagination because she's taught the opposite all the time. Tom commits every action out of self-interest.

At the end of the story, when Louisa becomes desperate for her father, Mr. Gradgrind says that he never knew she was unhappy; he wasn't able to identify his child's emotions. Everything he believes in is shattered, but he wants to make it up to Louisa. The whole system falls apart when Gradgrind loses confidence in it.

On the other hand, Bounderby keeps a firm belief in the system, so at the beginning and the end, he's in the same situation (a bachelor), but his character doesn't go through personal development. He represents the ideology of facts, but he lives in an illusion of a self-made man.

Sissy accepts the situation she found herself in, but never accepts the factual world, she keeps her inner value, and she is the mediator between two worlds (fact and fancy). Stephen is the opposite of the ideology of facts - he is genuine, driven by feelings, and not spoiled by any political or ideological opinions. StephenBounderby represents the ideologies, and SissyGradgrind holds them together.


In the present research, I have tried to analyze Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times by applying the realistic approach. This research offers a vivid picture of the negative or the ugliness of the industrial revolution and its effect on Victorian society. The writer Charles Dickens masterly represents his age and the industrial evils practiced during his time which includes the utilitarian base society and the suffering of the working class in factories and the fragile education system which don't allow any imaginative work or any work of art due to this many people like sissy jupe suffered because of the education system. If we look at this novel then we can realize that   Dickens is not against the industrial revolution but against industrial evils and capitalist greed which were there and Charles Dickens criticize the capitalist greed of the factory owners and their inhuman and unequal treatment of the suffering of the factory workers because of the behavior of the factory owners.

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Essay on Utilitarianism and Industrial Revolution. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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