Charles Dickens’s Hard Times allows one to analyze and take a greater look into the nineteenth century during the Industrial Revolution. The times of unrest within social classes. Lack of education; “Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!” said Mr. Gradgrind…. Dickens writes this in concern of no imagination and the use of the utilitarian theory.
The novel begins with an emphasis on facts; Facts are what everyone needs and desires to prosper. “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!”. This is preached to everyone in the way of utilitarianism. Dickens attacks this theory because he believed it contravened the rights of the people and took away their imaginations. In chapter two of the book, Thomas Gradgrind, a middle-class man who operates the education system. He drilled into the heads of his children and students the idea of utilitarianism and said the theory of it was the only way to live your life; with cold hard facts. Dickens wants the audience to know that facts will not give people satisfaction. One needs a sense of fantasy and imagination to keep life interesting. While lecturing a group of students, Gradgrind suggests that if you lay carpet, it does not need to have flowers on it, people do not walk on flowers; Instead, it needs to be laid out in “mathematical figures”. He goes on to say that this represents, facts or taste.
One may assume that Dickens admires the working class. The working class is the only one who worked and earn a “true living”. He had sympathy for the poor. In many of his other books, he always showed commiseration for the poverty-stricken characters in his stories. One might believe his main objective is to bring awareness of the poor to one’s perspective. His character Stephen Blackpool is a good representation of an honest man, with rectitude and understanding. He strives to maintain his sense of compassion. Blackpool refuses to go on strikes because he wants to earn a true living.
Contradictory is a factor between Louisa Gradgrind and her father Thomas. Louisa begrudged her father’s beliefs. Thomas Gradgrind finds her looking at the circus when it comes to town. He does not realize the children are his own and automatically starts thinking up a punishment until his realization of who the kids are. Louisa was a girl full of imagination. “There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression”. Louisa has to marry a man that she does not love. She marries Bounderby because she believes it will give back to her brother; the only one she loves. Louisa is unhappy and longs for the use of her imagination that her father once “destroyed” and forbids. Louisa is seduced by a man of the same political party as her father, James Harthouse.
One might argue that Dickens attacks the idea of romanticism with James Harthouse’s character. Harthouse and Thomas Gradgrind are very similar characters and some may realize from early in the story. Both of their characters portray the idea of utilitarianism which in the novel may be considered “dangerous” for some of the other characters, including Louisa. Although utilitarians, along with James Harthouse are not dangerous they give off a sense of being superficial.
One could learn a lot from this novel. Valuable lessons and much more. Societal problems from then to now have not progressed very much. Higher class individuals in this world get things handed to them on a silver platter and take it for granted while others are still living in poverty or working their hardest to keep their families fed, have a place to live, and living lives of worry.
In conclusion, this novel delineates the problems of education, work, and utilitarianism. Dickens wants to show that education shapes the growth of individuals and their characters. One would say he wanted to show that education with just facts damages the understanding and compassion of children. Dickens was living in the “hard times” and wanted to show his rebellion against societal problems and show that having an imagination opens up new ideas.