Essay, Research Paper: Hard Times By Charles Dickens

Literature: Charles Dickens

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The book Hard Times written by Charles Dickens is a story about a Lancashire
Mill Town in the 1840’s. The novel is divided into three books. Dickens titles
the books accordingly to prepare the reader for what is about to come, and
throughout the novel he shows the effects of the education system, the setup of
the caste system, and the Industrial Revolution had on society through this
small town of Coketown. The main characters of the novel show the English caste
system of the 19th century by showing how one influences the other and the
amount of power the bourgeois now have in society. They own the factories.
Therefore, they have the money and, because of the changes coming from the
revolution, have some power in society. The titles of the three books,
“Sowing”, “Reaping”, and “Garnering” shows significance in the way
Dickens is trying to help the reader get an understanding of what is to come.
Dickens shows the way the working classes are fighting for a say in the way they
are treated at work by forming unions and how a bad negotiator can ruin things.
He shows from the start that the education system is based on “fact” and not
“fancy.” The breakdown of the “fact” based education is shown when
Gradgrind himself asked a question that is not fact based. In the end, the whole
system of education is reversed and the “fancy” is fancied. The novel can be
summarized as a book about two struggles. One struggle is between fact and
imagination and the other is the struggle between two classes. Thomas Gradgrind,
the father of Louisa, Tom, and June not only stresses facts in the classroom in
which he teaches, but also at home to his family. He has brought up his children
to know only the “facts.” Everything is black and white, right or wrong with
nothing in between. Gradgrind does not like the idea of going to the circus or
having flowered carpet. Everyone knows a person cannot have flowered carpet. He
would trample all over them and they would end up dying. The second struggle is
between the classes is illustrated between Stephen Blackpool and Bounderby.
Blackpool represents the working class and Bounderby the bourgeois or middle
class. He is a warm-hearted man who feels he deserves this mediocre life.
Blackpool was once an employee under Bounderby and was fired for standing up for
his beliefs. He believed that the union was taking anything that was given to
them because they could not expect anything better. Stephen stands up for his
fellow workers asking for reform and this makes Bounderby mad so he fires
Stephen. This was typical during the Industrial Revolution. The run down society
Dickens speaks of is that created by the Industrial Revolution. The air is
filled with smoke that the working class have to breath. The water is turning
colors with pollution caused by the factories. The people who are most effected
by this are people like Blackpool, the lower class. Dickens shows Stephen and
Bounderby as a typical worker-employer relationship. Dickens shows the way in
which the factories were run at this period. A person could lose their job
simply by disagreeing with what he felt was wrong because the employer did not
really care about the employee. This is the way the workers were treated with no
respect. In contrast to the industrial revolution, it would be highly unlikely
that a middle class citizen such as Bounderby to employ an aristocrat. The
titles of the three books (“Sowing”, “Reaping”, and “Garnering”) are
named in a way of giving a special reference to the upbringing and the education
of the children. The titles together show the basic plot of the story.
“Sowing,” suggests that in the 1st book the idea of the children being sown
with facts and it also lays the foundation of the plot of the novel. They are
being taught fact. Where 2+2= 4 and nothing else matters, there is no gray area.
Everything is either black or white and nothing else. They are not taught
emotion. The 2nd book talks of the reaping or harvesting. In this book, Dickens
shows that whatever was sown in the first book, the consequences are now being
seen. For example, Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby was sown with the seeds of Fact.
She used facts to decide upon marrying Bounderby. It would help Tom out and get
him a high position in Bounderby’s bank. We can tell that she did not want to
marry Bounderby when she said, “There seems to be nothing there but languid
and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, fired bursts out, father!”
This seems be symbolism to a negative view of marrying Bounderby. In other
words, she is saying that there would be repressed feelings of passionate love
and if this marriage would to happen and deny her the opportunity of love. She
would be susceptible to being seduced. This almost happens with Mr. James
Harthouse. Here Dickens is referring to the Bible where there is a concept of
“whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”(Galatians 6:7). Thus,
being married to Bounderby, Louisa had harvested an unhappy marriage. The 3rd
book, “Garnering”, is about how characters are starting to pick of the
broken pieces of their lives. Mr. Gradgrind starts to help his children put
together pieces of their lives by promising to teach them the “fancy” or
emotional side of life along with the “facts.” The main characters in the
story are representative of the 19th century caste system. The aristocracy is
represented through Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Harthouse. Mrs. Sparsit is motivated by
an underlining jealousy towards Bounderby; she works for him, throughout the
book. During this time in history, there was a conflict of power going on. The
middle class was gaining it and the aristocracy was losing it. Mrs. Sparsit
despises Bounderby and his philosophy that he is a "self-made man."
Mr. Harthouse lives the life of a typical aristocrat. He lives the idle life,
only moving to Coketown to find something to occupy him. He tried to steal
Louisa away from Bounderby. This shows that Harthouse still felt that the rules
didn't apply to him being aristocratic. Bounderby, Thomas Gradgrind, Tom
Gradgind, and Louisa Gradgrind represent the middle class. Bounderby is the
typical successful middle class citizen of this time. He has a lot of wealth and
influence and he does not care about his employees. The father, Gradgrind, is
driven by a firm belief in his educational system. Therefore, pounds facts into
his children. Tom Gradgrind is later revealed as very weak and becomes a person
only interested in what he can get no matter how it affects other. He is
heartless. Louisa is a poor girl trapped in the middle. Both her father and
brother push her to marry Bounderby. She only does this to make them happy, but
we see throughout the book that she has an interest in the fancy side of life.
Sissy Jupe and Stephen Blackpool represent the lower class. Sissy Jupe is
orphaned at the beginning. Blackpool is a worker for Bounderby. Both are very
uneducated, but very compassionate people. Blackpool and Jupe show throughout
the book the typical lower class citizen. They were very compassionate towards
their fellow man and help whenever they could. In looking at the aspects of the
19th century. Dickens gives a description about how the "hands”, or the
workers, were being mistreated and that there was little hope that they would be
helped. Dickens’ views towards unions at this time are that they were just as
corrupt as the employers. Slackbridge is one of the union agitators. He claims
to be for the union, but Dickens describes him as a false prophet. He was not a
very good negotiator for the union. Even his name suggests that he is a very
poor "bridge" between the workers and the owners. Slackbridge takes
whatever is offered and that is not much at all. The Gradgrind education system
backfires on Gradgrind himself. This is seen through an ironic situation between
him and Bitzer, Bitzer was an excellent product of the “system.” Bitzer had
stopped Gradgrind’s son Tom from leaving town. Tom had been caught stealing
money from Bounderby’s bank. By this time Gradgrind has become a more
emotional man, torn down by the constant failure in life by his own children. In
an effort to save Tom from any jail time, he was planning to send Tom away from
town. The emotions felt by Gradgrind become too much for him and in a “broken
down and submissive” manner asks Bitzer, “have you no heart.” Bitzer
replies. “No man, sir, acquainted with the facts established by Harvey
relating to the circulation of the blood can doubt that I have a heart."
The irony is that Gradgrind taught Bitzer to think in this manner. Bitzer uses
facts to undermine a question clearly related to compassion, which Bitzer does
not have. Gradgrind would have answered the question the same way at the
beginning of the novel. Toward the end of the book, fact and fancy became
reversed. Why was that? It was because of the realization that the Gradgrind
education system failed. Teaching only facts was not the best way of eduacating
the children. Gradgrind himself figures this out when he sees his own children
failing at life. Dickens illustrates that the education system of this time was
educating people to not think on their own. Their imaginations were suppressed
and that it also was not interested in making well-rounded students, but denying
children their childhood. The significance of the ending being in the circus is
that is the complete opposite of everything that was being taught at the
beginning. The institution of the school of fact is totally gone. A new way of
looking at life has arisen. Facts can no longer the only thing in life. The
necessity of compassion, love, and understanding are now shown to be of more
importance that learning facts alone. The entire Gradgrind system of facts
proved to be a failure, and Gradgrind learns that emotions and imagination are
the controlling forces in everyone's life. Gradgrind is filled with repentance
for ruining the lives of his children, as he decided to make "his facts and
figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and charity." In Dickens three books in
the novel, we are shown the effects of the education system, the caste system,
and the Industrial Revolution had on society through this small town of Coketown
To me the book was a good portrayal of what life in the 19th century would have
been like. The breakdown of society from a single towns standpoint through the
eyes of Dickens is amazing. In my opinion, I felt that the voice of Gradgrind
had the most impact throughout the novel. As the novel progresses, so does the
attitude of Gradgrind. He slowly faded away from his idea of education of
nothing but fact, to completely abandoning that philosophy and promises to
intertwine the two. Also, he showed that he was a stronger man, by standing up
to Bounderby when Louisa came home. He allowed her to stay and Bounderby
divorced her. Gradgrind did this out of love and with no concern about what
Bounderby thought or would “say” about it.
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