The symbolism of Christendom in “Hard Times”
In Dickens’s Hard Times, Christianity is often alluded to both symbolically and literally. Because of the time period in which the novel was written, the presence of these religious themes are not surprising, but the way Dickens presents these allusions, sometimes with an air of humor and cynicism, is unique.
Many Bible stories are incorporated into the stories of separate characters in the book, and Bible happenings or quotes are paralleled in the happenings of Coketown. Both Rachael and Stephan can be seen as Jesus figures, Rachael because she always cares for others and is Stephan’s light and love, and Stephan because he is, in a sense, a martyr at the hands of the upper class (Bounderby, Tom and others). Sissy can be seen as an angel figure, because she brings light and love to Louisa and Jane Gradgrind. Many characters, especially those like Stephan, Rachael and Sissy, quote bible passages, such as “Do unto others as you would do unto me”, which is Sissy’s answer to a statistics question at the McChoakumchild School.
Many other allusions to Christianity are placed inside the text, hidden in descriptions and passive passages rather than in dialogue or action passages. These are the allusions that add to the overall tone of the novel. Some are even referred to in chapter titles, as in Chapter I of Book the First, “The One Thing Needful”. This refers to the story in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus praises Mary for valuing God as the “one thing needful” over the trivialities of everyday life. Along with providing an immediate idea of the future religious allusions that may be used in the book, this chapter title sets a major theme of the novel: the idea that facts are, to Gradgrind, Bounderby and other characters, held to be as important as God, the one “needful” thing to be remembered and followed, and be valued above everyday life. Similarly, an Anglican prayer is inserted into a description of Coketown “…the McChoakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchasable in the cheapest market or saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.” (Bk the 1st; Ch. V; pg 37-38). The ending line, “…world without end, Amen”, is the ending line of many Anglican prayers. This, like the chapter title, helps to glorify fact to a godlike level, and sets it as a dogmatic presence in Coketown, more important and adhered to than religion itself.
For the most part, Christian references are embedded in descriptions of Coketown and the fact-based values that many of the characters hold dear. These references exalt Fact and utilitarianism to an almost god-like status, held dearer in some characters’ minds than religion itself. “A town so sacred in fact, and so triumphant in its assertion, of course it got on well? Why no…who belonged to the eighteen (religious) denominations? Because, whoever did, the laboring people did not…” (Book the first: Ch. V; pg. 38). This quote alludes to the fact that religion is not held in as high a value for most Coketown citizens as the utilitarian view of working and production. Furthermore, for the higher society men such as Gradgrind and Bounderby, religion is idle and not factually based, and is therefore not worth spending time on. Fact is much more important. Overall, this affects the tone of the novel by causing it to adopt an almost reverent view of hard fact, as though that is the true religion of Coketown. Dickens often hovers on the edge of satirical with his reverent references to the glory of fact, for example, Gradgrind uses “fact forbid” instead of God forbid or Heaven forbid; and the utilitarian characters ardently adhere to and defend fact to the point of stupidity; they are ridiculous in their earnest love of fact.
This use of satire and exaggeration backs up Dickens’s protest of the utilitarianism and class politics displayed by many of his characters, and, indeed, the city of Coketown itself. Hard Times is, above all else, a social commentary novel, and Dickens’s use of Christian allusions to glorify fact gives the reader an insight into the minds of his characters and helps with an understanding of Dickens’s disgust with the prevalent ideas of the time period. Additionally, the blind glorification of utilitarianism in the face of poverty, repression, and immorality makes the characters and ideas seem all the more inappropriate and ugly.
Analysis of the Character of Mr. Gradgrind
Early in Hard Times, Dickens develops the portrait of Gradgrind in the classroom delivering a lesson centred on horses at his model school to his model students. Dickens carries Gradgrind’s factual theories, utilitarianism and educational system principle into his domestic family life as well as his schoolroom. Throughout the novel’s earliest chapters, we begin to learn in more detail Gradgrind’s philosophy put into practise and the interactions with the students that he teaches. Mr Gradgrind’s name represents a powerful example of Dickens use of caricature. Gradgrind is a harsh, forceful-sounding word and the use of repeated G’s and a short ‘a,’ creates the automatic presumptions that the reader has towards him. The word grind represents something being worn down, for example machinery, and this is a large aspect of Coketown life. Grinding something, is reducing it to what you want it to be. Just like Gradgrind is sculpturing his students into representatives of himself.
Dickens uses descriptive language that reflects the personality of Mr Gradgrind. The repeated use of ‘cellarage’ conveys that his eyes are like caves, that they have room in them, reflecting a dark, dingy cellar. They reflect a cold, dank personality that lacks an authentic love and feeling for emotion and life. However, Dickens describes him as ‘eagerly sparkled,’ this shows an image of his eyes, but suggests in more detail that they are only alive when he is dealing with facts and figures. Dickens shows that Gradgrind has a ‘square forefinger’ portraying his obsession with a straight, ordered and uniformed way of living and learning. This also links to Gradgrind’s dismissive action as he ‘waved off the objections calling with his hand,’ and rejecting the way that Sissy has been brought up; he shows both his arrogance and his control of others.
Grandgrind’s language fits his character throughout this text. Dickens uses language that indicates that Gradgrind has a harsh and controlling personality. The short clipped sentences, ‘Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations,’ all underline and suggest a man who doesn’t waste words, Mr Gradgrind is able to articulate exactly what he wants to put across to his students quickly and more importantly efficiently. The repetition of his names, ‘Thomas Gradgrid, Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind,’ conveys his importance and his awareness of his standing and his place in the hierarchy of Coketown. Mr Gradgrid shows this control by telling Sissy how she should introduce herself ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy,’ Gradgrid humiliates her and shows her who has authority. Gradgrind also tells her that the circus and horses have no place in the schoolroom, she isn’t entitled to share her own opinion, ’you mustn’t talk about that, here’ and ‘you mustn’t tell us about the ring, here.’ Sissy is told not to address her father in that way, again illustrating Gradgrind’s control over his students. Gradgrind wants Sissy to propose her father as ‘a veterinary surgeon, a farrier and horse-breaker,’ Gradgrind wants to cabal her father with factual definitions. Sissy seems to accept what he says but we can tell she is truly frightened of him through her body language. The use of Gradgrind’s mathematical language conveys his obsessive nature and Dickens portrays this using humour; ‘multiplication table always in his pocket,’ ‘pair of scales’ and ‘simple arithmetic,’ all show that he is not using any ‘fancy,’ language or allowing any emotion, instincts, affections or feelings to be shown. His actions and thoughts are based on logic facts, period.
Mr Gradgrind, interacts with his students in different ways, treating them differently because of the facts and figures that they possess. Sissy is nervous, polite and embarrassed ‘number twenty, blushing…curtseying,’ when Gradgrind interacts with her. Dickens shows us her vulnerability and embarrassment when she is unable to define a horse. The children at his school are numbers in a system and not given names, Dickens dehumanises them, ‘pitchers to be filled with facts’ implies that he won’t allow them to do subjects that are creative or involve the imagination, these children aren’t allowed to be breathing, living, emotional beings. Dickens uses a metaphor that indicates war and destructive imagery ‘seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts,’ gives the reader a sense of the force of his character and passionate belief that Gradgrind will ‘blow’ the children out of their childhood. Gradgrind tells us the true extent he will go to until facts and figures are all these children live by, ’imaginations to be stormed away,’ he won’t allow for any imagination or fancy in the classroom and it therefore must be discarded. One of the most significant features of this passage is when Sissy Jupe is asked to define a horse, ‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ Sissy is unable to give Gradgrind a factual definition of a horse, as she knows the creatures well as breathing, loving animals. Sissy’s father works with them everyday, she has grown up with them in her everyday life, not thinking of them as a statement of the exact meaning of a word. Throughout the novel, Sissy discovers that she can’t fully understand facts and figures and her difficulty to understand them becomes harder; this scene is just the beginning of her struggles in the schoolroom
Thomas Gradgrind is a representative character of the utilitarian principle of Victorian political economy, a man who prizes facts above anything else. He is introduced into Hard Times as a harsh, controlling, hard-nosed, shaped-tongued protagonist, who is dismissive of others and his opinions are conveyed forcefully and he uses them to be in control and impetuously obeyed. Gradgrind is controlled over his theory of educational system based on the importance of facts and figures. Subsequently when Gradgrind asks Bitzer for his definition of a horse, after Sissy cannot, he refers to Bitzer as his name and not a number like Sissy previously. Gradgrind attempts to make his mark on Sissy by applying his way of teaching to her but eventually comes to the realisation that there is a fault in the educational system.
James Harthouse, the Utilitarian Romantic
Though many have argued that Dickens used the character of James Harthouse to criticize Romanticism in his novel Hard Times, it is his utilitarianism that makes him such a danger. Harthouse himself notes early in the novel that there are many similarities between himself and the utilitarian Tom Gradgrind—for though Harthouse might in theory live his life for sensation, his disappointment in what he’s found has led him to look at things with a blandly unperturbed eye. “I have seen a little, here and there,” he says, “up and down: I have found it all to be very worthless…and I am going in for your respected father’s opinions—really because I have no choice of opinions, and may as well back them as anything else.” (100) Yet unlike the utilitarians, Harthouse cannot be redeemed by even the illusion of social purpose or responsibility. Dickens is able to illustrate this paucity of feeling by setting Harthouse, in his final scene, against the character of Sissy Jupe– whose earnest modesty and goodwill, coupled with a more elastic kind of sense, brings his own lack of character into sharp relief. It is Sissy, not Harthouse, whom Dickens puts forward as a model worth following—and it is Harthouse, not Sissy, who proves that disingenuousness matters much more than the label (Romantic, Utilitarian, or otherwise) that it is given. The emptiness of sentiment behind Harthouse’s speech is a first clue in this passage concerning his sincerity. When Sissy informs him that he is never to see Louisa again, his choice of words is Romantically dramatic—yet his actual reaction is one of rather speedy resignation. “Well! If it should unhappily appear,” he said, “after due pains and duty on my part, that I am brought to a position so desolate as this banishment, I shall not become the lady’s persecutor.” (174)A life without Louisa is for him apparently comparable to “banishment” or, as he says shortly before, an “exile” (174), and he insists that he considers any such state to be totally “desolate” (174). Yet even as Harthouse paints his pain so vividly, he dismisses it almost in the same breath by reverting to dull, dispassionate language. Any resistance on his part is considered to be nothing more that “due pains and duty,” evidently routine enough to be fulfilled by mere mention alone. His next thought—that he will “not become the lady’s persecutor”—is another example of how vapid powerful language becomes in his hands. The theatricality of the word “persecutor” could suggest that Harthouse feels the full weight of his punishment, and perhaps even more. But like the theater, Harthouse’s world is one of appearance alone, “a conscious polishing of but an ugly surface” (175). For even as he affects real dismay, he readily surrenders the girl he supposedly cares for.It is important to note that though Harthouse is a shallow being, he—like the Utilitarians—is not actually evil. If it is too much to say that his intentions are good, one can at least argue that they are not consciously bad. “I beg to be allowed to assure you,” he says to Sissy, “that I have had no particularly evil intentions, but have glided on from one step to another” (175). His division of Louisa’s seduction into different “steps” signals a cool-headed perspective—almost as if to suggest that Harthouse moved from step to step in the seduction much as he would move from step to step in a mathematical problem. Though he is completely devoid of warm sentiment, he is likewise incapable of any real malevolence because he sees everything before him on the same placid plane. The fact that he was still able, in such a state, to very nearly ruin a woman’s life is proof of the idea that a lack of passion can be far more destructive than a wealth of it. Sissy’s own earnestness serves as a forceful contrast here; “the fervor of this reproach” (174) that she gives completely disarms Harthouse, and at the same time it illustrates Dickens’ own idea of what a model citizen should be. When Harthouse asks Sissy what drove her to find him, she replies that her affection for Louisa motivated her: “I have only the commission of my love for her, and her love for me” (174). The rhythmic regularity of “my love for her, and her love for me” as well as the simplicity of the message itself comes as a soothing balm to Harthouse’s own worthless rhetoric. It is Sissy’s sense of human decency, her true compassion for others, that separates her from utilitarians like Gradgrind and alleged anti-utilitarians like Harthouse, who each view the world as a set of frigid observations. Yet Sissy herself is not completely devoid of logic, which is crucial to Dickens’ idea that sentimentality must be tempered with practicality. In her justification to Harthouse Sissy moves steadily from emotion to fact—saying first that she loves Louisa, next that Louisa has given Sissy her trust, and lastly that “I know something of her character and her marriage” (174). Her love for Louisa is perhaps of utmost importance, but at the same time Sissy is driven by incontrovertible knowledge, knowledge based on observation and reflection. Like Harthouse, Sissy knows about the failure of Louisa’s marriage, and this information is powerful; yet, even as she admits its importance, Sissy does not depend on it entirely. She does not know everything about Louisa; Dickens is careful to say that she only knows “something.” To he and Sissy both, knowing something and feeling something is infinitely better than knowing everything and feeling nothing, like the Utilitarians, or knowing nothing and feeling everything, like the Romantics. In short, Sissy embodies the best parts of two perilous extremities—emerging from the fray as an example for readers to follow. Harthouse, on the other hand, embodies the worst parts of each: He lacks a social conscience, like many a Romantic, but he’s completely unfeeling, like many a utilitarian. Left with more defects than he perhaps has a right to, he is ultimately left to his own idleness and lack of purpose, unable or unwilling to reform. It is interesting to note that though Harthouse remains unchanged, his utilitarian counterpart Gradgrind is transformed by the novel’s end into something to be admired—suggesting that, though both Harthouse and Gradgrind were initially cursed with an unfeeling perspective, Gradgrind was saved by a real desire to be useful. Harthouse, indifferent to the last, sails out of the novel as its greatest scoundrel–with only a vague sense of his own inadequacy and absolutely no inclination to do anything about it.
The Triumph of Mr. Gradgrind’s System: Louisa as a Wasteland in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times
“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts” (9) pronounces Mr. Thomas Gradgrind in the opening line of Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times. Gradgrind employees this utilitarian philosophy in his schoolhouse and repeatedly reminds the reader that there is no room for idle fantasizing and that nothing matters but Fact. Not only does Gradgrind wield this belief in his school, but it is also the philosophy he teaches his own children within the walls of Stone Lodge. The mechanizing effects of Mr. Gradgrind’s teachings turn these children into true products of the Industrial Revolution—little machines. Gradgrind’s eldest child, Louisa, becomes the central example of the mechanization of people in Dickens’s Hard Times, and she serves as a powerful critique of the coldness and de-humanization of the Industrial Revolution. Louisa Gradgrind is the central female figure in Hard Times; she strives to suppress her passions and curiosities so she might please her father by living a life led by Fact. Her schooling has been a “mechanical art” (71) that never stooped to “the cultivation of the sentiments and affections” (71). Louisa is repeatedly warned by her father to “Never wonder” and continually reminded of the importance of Fact. Louisa’s education has created a nearly lifeless character, one who is seemingly void of warmth and does not adequately know how to recognize or express her own feelings. Louisa’s mechanical character is shadowed by a disturbingly mechanical world. The Industrial Revolution is at its height, and the effects of factory life on workers are paralleled by the effects of Gradgrind’s rational philosophy on his own children. The repetitive tasks of the factory workers are dangerous because they do not necessitate thought or evoke any sense of emotion. The factories themselves produce gray smog and dense haze that fills the sky of Coketown, and lifeless ashes that cover the buildings in which the workers must live. As a result, Coketown has been transformed into a “dense formless jumble”, covered by a “blur of soot and smoke,” (151) that creeps along the earth and proves to be nothing more than darkness. Thus, through this emphasis on setting, Dickens’s novel provides a damning appraisal of the Industrial Revolution, and implicitly argues that habit-intensive factory jobs threaten to transform people into things, to render them cold and hard like the machinery they operate, dark and blurred like the city they live in. Dickens suggests that when imagination is dulled, life will become a nearly unbearable existence, an existence without pleasure or meaning. Louisa, “the triumph of [Mr. Gradgrind’s] system” (288), feels the agony of such an existence. She is exposed solely to the methodology of her father’s system, but throughout the novel she proves to have reservations regarding such a philosophy. Louisa feels deep sympathy for her brother, convinces him to peep at the forbidden fancies of the circus, empathizes with Stephen Blackpool, and experiences emotional turmoil upon the arrival of James Harthouse. Louisa’s education may prevent her from fully understanding her emotions, but unlike her father, she acknowledges that those emotions exist and have some purpose within the framework of her life. Louisa falls somewhere in between the two extremes of Gradgrind’s system—Bitzer, the ideal product produced from the “model school”, and Sissy Jupe, who despite living with Mr. Gradgrind remains impervious to his system. At the close of the second book, the mechanization of Louisa’s education catches up with her, and she collapses at her father’s feet. It is her father’s repression of every outlet for play or fantasy that has created within Louisa an inability to properly deal with her emotions and has pushed her into a gray, lifeless depression. Before her collapse Louisa finally realizes her life is an unbearable litany of Fact, and as her long suppressed emotions break loose, she tells her father: “Your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, Father, you have brought me to this” (288). It is only when he looks upon the “pride of his heart and the triumph of his system” in an “insensible heap” (288) at his feet that Mr. Gradgrind realizes his system has nearly destroyed his favorite child, and understands it is because of him that his daughter is so detached from others. Louisa is the product of Mr. Gradgrind’s parental cultivation, and recognizes at the close of the second book that both her home and her heart are a wasteland— that the garden of both Stone Lodge and “the graces of her soul” (284) have not been cared for properly. Louisa exclaims “What have you done, oh, Father, what you have done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?” (284) and Mr. Gradgrind realizes that by watering his daughter’s heart only with Fact, he has exposed Louisa to “the frost and blight” (284) that have “spoiled” her. It is when Mr. Gradgrind realizes there may be something that is needful beyond Fact that he and Louisa are able to transform into something more than cold, hard products of the System, and begin sowing fresh seeds in the empty wastelands of their hearts.Works CitedDickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: Pocket Books, 2007.
Symbolism of Geometry in Dickens’ Hard Times
In Charles Dickens’ literary satire, Hard Times, geometry–especially that of squares and circles–serves an important thematic function. The “man of hard facts,” Thomas Gradgrind, has a “square forefinger,” “square wall of a forehead,” and a “square coat, square legs, square shoulders.” (11) The very schoolroom in which Gradgrind teaches is described as “plain, bare, monotonous vault” (11)–this again evoking a square–on an inclined plane, with lines of children filling the room. In contrast, Sleary’s circus, where Sissy Jupe comes from, suggests an ongoing, perfect circle, that never changes. Even when the reader visits the carefree and lively circus a decade after Sissy first attends Gradgrind’s model school, the same clowns performing in the circus and Sissy herself are still present. Thus, Dickens uses the geometry of shapes to demonstrate the differences in lifestyle between the hard-edged, “square” Gradgrind, and the vivacious, “circular” Sissy. In geometry, a circle is a figure with no starting points or ending points, and can be rotated any way and look the same. Sissy, who has grown up in the circus ring, represents imagination, independence, and, most important, endurance. At the start of Hard Times, the dark-eyed and dark-haired girl is not very smart, but content; she expresses her creativity–not her ability to recite facts–through her dreams of a carpet that “was very pretty and pleasant” (16). By referencing her circus roots, Dickens reminds the reader that “happy Sissy’s happy children [loved] her” even after a decade has passed in the novel (292). Compared to the Gradgrind children and model students, Sissy is quite probably the most stable character in the novel, because the never-ending pulse of circus life has ultimately shaped her into an individual of perfect, eternal love; Dickens reinforces this by continually referring to the circular aspect of the ring. While others change around Sissy, she offers guidance, as she does to Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa, even when she admits that she hated Sissy, responding: “‘I have always loved you, and have always wished that you should know it’” (224). The perfection and continuity of a circle suits the personality of the reliable Sissy Jupe. Conversely, Thomas Gradgrind has become emotionally hardened by his mantra: “Stick to Facts, sir!” (11) Like the square that Dickens so often compares him to, he is rigid, sharp, and like a box for holding facts and knowledge. Gradgrind has no support or sympathy for his daughter Louisa, or any other human being: all he essentially wants to accomplish is filling “the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged [at his school]” with “imperial gallons of facts…until they were full to the brim” (12). However, the appearance of Sissy Jupe immediately begins to melt away the corners of his box-shaped heart. Early in the novel, Dickens uses the word “square” to describe Gradgrind and his household at least ten times, but as the novel progresses as Sissy begins to take an active role in his life, the reader notices the word less and less. Gradgrind begins to regain his redemption from insensitivity by letting Sissy stay at his model school and house very early in the novel. By the end of Hard Times, Sissy’s influence on his household has affected him deeply; he allows Louisa to come back home after her disastrous marriage fails, but most importantly, he learns to ask for kindness and he realizes his failure as a teacher of all things factual. The cold, calculating, and determined Bitzer, a former model pupil of Gradgrind’s, is willing to sacrifice Gradgrind’s son Tom Junior for his own betterment, but Gradgrind surprisingly feels compassion for his son and asks for compassion: “ ‘Is [your heart, Bitzer,] accessible,’ cried Mr. Gradgrind, ‘to any compassionate influence?’” (281) Formerly, the square and sensible Gradgrind would have never begged for help, but under the influence of Sissy, Gradgrind pleads and realizes the mistake of his utilitarian schooling system. In the first two chapters of Hard Times, the reader immediately sees the stark difference between the severity of the cubic schoolroom and the lively circus. While Sissy Jupe infects and changes all with the virtue she carries from the circus–which carries on even without her–Gradgrind initially stifles the imagination of his young schoolchildren and pours facts into their box-like minds. However, Sissy, who is the catalyst of change, manages to transform the character, the shape, of her employer. Sissy melts the hard edges of Gradgrind’s square façade into a loving, kind human being, who in turn becomes part of the circle of life.
The Intellectual Limits of Class: Fact vs. Truth in Hard Times and Howard’s End
E.M. Forster and Charles Dickens use their novels, Howard’s End and Hard Times, respectively, to discuss the social inequalities of class. These inequalities are registered in their characters’ different relationships to facts and knowledge. While Dickens’ characters in the Gradgrind household are shackled to bland fact, Forster’s intellectuals use debate as a manner of seeking larger truths. It is Forster’s impoverished characters, particularly the poor Mr. Leonard Bast, who can only grasp simple facts. Dickens’ Hard Times portrays its economically elite as a people of fact. Mr. Thomas Gradgrind is depicted as “charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away” (42). His logic is based upon nothing but facts. When asking Cecilia ‘Sissy’ Jupe what her father’s profession is, he manages to create a more regal title for the circus performer by taking each individual task that he does and giving it a title of its own. The power of entertainment does not interest Gradgrind; however, upon asking Cecilia about the individual tasks of her father’s job, Gradgrind does find respectability in creating “a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker” out of Signor Jupe (43). Furthermore, the reader can observe that Gradgrind’s reliance on fact is not limited to just the older generation. Young Bitzer establishes that this same adherence to cold, statistical evidence has permeated younger generations at the behest of their teachers. When Sissy cannot provide a definition for a horse, an animal whom her family is extremely familiar with, Bitzer is commended on his definition that consists of naming the different physical properties that make up a horse. Although Sissy, a representation of the impoverished, knows horses, has been around actual horses, she only knows them through experience. Bitzer on the other hand, a member of the more financially stable, creates his horse out of numbers. He is adhering to the idea that “‘you are not to have anywhere, what you don’t see in fact. What is called Taste, is only another name for Fact” (45). In contrast to Dickens, Forster positions the Schlegel sisters, academic and economic elites, as women who concern themselves with intellectual debate. Their pursuit is aimed at finding truth through the process of debate. The simplistic idea of right and wrong is not what concerns them; instead, the idea of factual right and wrong is associated with the impoverished. “In his [Leonard Bast’s] circle to be wrong was fatal. The Miss Schlegels did not mind being wrong” (109). It is in higher pursuits than just facts that the Schlegel sisters remain interested. Hence, they involve themselves and pride themselves on debate. “The aim of their debates, she implied, was truth” yet it is truth, not fact that wins the day; therefore, “‘it doesn’t much matter what subject you take'” as long as the discussion serves to bring those involved closer to a higher truth (104). For Forster’s elite, the truth is seen as something greater than fact. In order to find the truth, there must be interstitial connections. Different sides of the truth reveal themselves through debate and it is only through connecting these sides that man can find truth. Margaret, a representative of the educated elite, concerns herself not with piling up statistical data like Bitzer and his horse, but instead, with making connections. “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon” (147). The wealthy are a people who can afford to make these connections.Accordingly, the poor can afford to know only limited factual information. Leonard Bast is introduced as a clerk, a man of numbers and fact. He is not someone who can find the greater meaning behind a story, but is simply “familiar with the outsides of books” (90). For the wealthy, it is not the facts that guide man but the decisions that are based upon them. Yet for those like Leonard, the literal is all that they can afford. “They mean us to use them (books) for sign-posts, and are not to blame if in our weakness, we mistake the sign-posts for the destination. And Leonard had reached the destination” (94). The literal and its facts are not the achievement of the educated wealthy class like in Dickens’ novel. They are the limits of the impoverished. While Forster emphasizes learning the whole truth over its statistical composition for his wealthy intellectuals, for Dickens, that imagination is the provence of the impoverished such as Sissy Jupe. Perhaps the difference signals the public’s lost faith in the imaginative abilities of the lower classes. Forster’s novel appeared sixty years after Dickens published Hard Times. For E.M. Forster, writing at the turn of the twentieth century, poverty is no longer romantic, but a subject of pity and concern.
Hard Times: A Microcosm of Urban Factories
Inventor and scientific pioneer Albert Einstein once commented that “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Though he was not referring to the industrialization of England during the nineteenth century, his sentiment was echoed by many during the Victorian Age of England. The era saw, in the words of critic Carol Christ, a “shift from a way of life based on the ownership of land to a modern urban economy based on trade and manufacturing” (Christ 1043). Departing from the previous rural economy, England now entered into the modern world of technology. Though productive and profitable, this change in England’s social and economic structure transformed the psyche of many Victorians. By the end of the century, England was the world’s principal imperial authority, but with this new power came the destruction of moralistic ways of life found earlier in England’s history. Nineteenth-century England’s overzealous adoption of industrialization threatened to dehumanize its citizens by thwarting the development of their emotions and imaginations for the purpose of tangible productions of industry. To quote Christ, Victorians “suffered from an anxious sense of something lost, a sense too of being displaced persons in a world made alien by technological changes that had been exploited too quickly.” (Christ 1044). In his novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens criticizes the industrialization of England and the dehumanization of spirit. Dickens’s critical view of society “becomes increasingly systemic, and he begins to use organizing metaphors to express his social vision” (Christ 1335). The author views urbanization as “a tyrannical juggernaut that reduces him to a cipher” (Manlove, 224). Written in 1854, Hard Times is Dickens’s commentary on urbanization and its detrimental effects on the inhabitants of Coketown. In her article “Hard Times and the Structure of Industrialism: The Novel as Factory,” Patricia E. Johnson asserts that “Hard Times uses the physical structure of the factory itself as both the metaphor for the destructive forces at work on its characters’ lives and as the metaphor for its own aesthetic unity as a novel” (410). Dickens portrays Coketown and its citizens as a microcosm for industrialization, with Stephen symbolizing the working class, Louisa representing the mechanized out-put of industry, and the town itself embodying a factory.Stephen Blackpool epitomizes the working class in Hard Times, both through the names and words associated with Stephen and the character himself. Thomas Carlyle wrote in his essay “The Condition of the Working Class” that “the condition and disposition of the Working Class is a rather ominous matter at present” (345). The name “blackpool” alludes to basic negative imagery to suggest Stephen’s dim prospects for the future. He is unable to divorce his alcoholic wife and therefore cannot marry Rachel. Dickens implies throughout the novel that Stephen is perpetually stuck in his role in Coketown. Only bad things happen to Stephen even though he remains an incredibly virtuous person throughout the novel. In chapter ten of Hard Times, the story turns to the workers of Coketown, a group of laborers known as “the Hands.” In his article, “Them and US in Literature: Hands, Knees, and a Book by Dickens,” Paul O’Flinn comments on the idea that Dickens portrays the mentality of factory owners through his connotation of “the Hands.” O’Flinn asserts that industrialization does not require “eyes” or “heart” but rather only needs “hands.” He goes on to say that “in large numbers people tend to form mobs and make policemen work overtime. But hands are harmless” (1). O’Flinn contends that urban laborers are not seen as whole individuals, but rather as innocuous hands created solely to work. This idea of the working class as nothing but mere “hands” diminishes the characters as human beings and alludes to the dehumanization that industrialism causes.Among these “Hands” lives a decent man named Stephen Blackpool. He looks much older than his forty years and has had a hard life. Dickens writes that “every life has its roses and thorns […] in Stephen’s case, […] somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own. […] He was usually called Old Stephen, in a kind of rough homage to the fact” (52). Stephen has very little as far as intelligence or social graces and he is very simply defined as “good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect integrity” (52). Stephen, an almost saintly character, never speaks ill of others and appears honest and hard-working. Johnson believes Dickens used Stephen as a “representative factory hand” and that he “exists at the heart of the system, almost in the heat of the furnace as it were” (414). Stephen’s whole life “is fully contained and defined by the factory system” (416). In fact, Stephen’s home is “in the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in (Dickens 52). Here Stephen’s representations of the working class are seen through his intricate place in the story and his permanent place in Coketown. Through Stephen, Dickens personifies the laboring society of industrialization. Stephen’s representations of the working class in Hard Times are exemplified in the fourth chapter of the second book. Slackbridge, the head of a movement to create labor unions, ignites a discussion with the “Hands.” Although Slackbridge considers the legitimate concerns of the poor, he is more interested in inciting outrage and building a platform for his own power and edification than in achieving the common goals of the “Brotherhood” whose rights he so adamantly defends. Dickens symbolizes the materialism of industrialization through Slackbridge. Stephen attends the meeting when asked to speak. He declines to join the union, saying “I doubt their doin’ yo onny good” (Dickens 108). Stephen has no problem with others joining the movement and he supports them, but he cannot join and simply wants to continue his job without any trouble. Slackbridge denounces Blackpool and he curbs his language only after several members of his faithful crowd demand that Stephen be given a chance to defend himself. Stephen lacks the rhetorical skills and the manipulative inclinations of Slackbridge and his deeply felt remarks are received to little avail. Under Slackbridge’s new regime, Stephen is ostracized as a traitor, deliberately ignored, and shunned. Bounderby fires him, stating that “even your own Union, the men who know you best, will have nothing to do with you” (Dickens 116). Stephen is forced to leave town to seek work and is wrongly suspected of committing a bank robbery. Walking back across country to Coketown in order to clear his name, Stephen falls down a disused mine shaft. Though rescued, he dies soon later. This “fall” of Stephen as a character represents Dickens conviction that urbanization ensnares the citizens of Coketown, leaving them irreparably chained to industry. Stephen takes a stand against Slackbridge, and thus a symbolic stand against industrialization, when he refuses the union. The end result of his outward criticism is not only his being shunned by his coworkers, but his death as well. There simply lies no way out of the system for the factory hand, an “idea that Dickens ironically illustrates by having Stephen leave Coketown only to fall into an abandoned mine pit. Stephen recognizes that his end is a metonym for the factory hand’s life….” (Johnson 415). Stephen Blackpool’s life and death epitomize the working class in Hard Times, thus weaving his character into the thematic fabric of the nvoel.Throughout Hard Times, Dickens utilizes his characters to illustrate how urbanization results in the mechanization of emotion. Industrialization creates “dead souls” who “only appear in furtive and anonymous form” in the novel (Manlove 222). His idea that the Industrial Revolution in England spawned a factory-like society is evident in his portrayal of one of the main characters, Louisa Gradgrind. Louisa, raised in an environment based solely on facts, remains numbed from her emotions. Her father, Mr. Gradgrind, wants “Facts.” He instructs her to “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” (Dickens 5). Dickens describes him as a “man of realities. A man of facts and calculations” (6). He raises his daughter and son Tom in an environment devoid of any imagination or emotion, much like robotic productions of an urban factory. Louisa and her brother Tom try to break from this rigid mold and attempt to peek at the circus, a symbol of imagination and creativity. The two are harshly chastised by their parents, signifying the reprimand of life without facts. When discussing the Gradgrind children, the narrator asserts, “Not that they knew, by name or nature, anything about an Ogre. Fact forbid!” (11). Because of her upbringing, Louisa Gradgrind is a mechanical character, governed not by her sense of self, but by her programmed desire to please her father and adhere to the expectations of Coketown’s urbanized society. When discussing the proposal of marriage by Bounderby, Louisa comes to her decision through monotonous rationalizing of facts: “Mr. Bounderby,” she went on in a steady, straight way, without regarding this, “asks me to marry him. The question I have to ask myself is, shall I marry him? That is so father, is it not? You have told me so, father. Have you not?” “Certainly, my dear.” “Let it be so” (Dickens 79).Here Louisa, a young woman, consents to marry a man much older and with no commonality to herself. Louisa “allows herself to be used as an object of exchange by her father…,” thus illustrating her character as a dehumanized shell (Johnson 417). She concedes to marriage, a monumental decision for any girl, void of feeling or sensation in a robotic display of her upbringing through “facts.” When James Harthouse propositions Louisa after her marriage to Bounderby, Louisa struggles with new-found desires never awakened before. She runs to the aide of her father and requests to speak to him about her predicament. As she tells Mr. Gradgrind: “I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny” and asks him, “Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart?” (Dickens 163). Because Louisa was drawn into an emotional attachment to Harthouse, she loses control and has an emotional breakdown, a symbolic disintegration of her robotic upbringing. Louisa’s mechanical way of thinking is unable to cope with the feelings Harthouse has awakened and her character implodes. Much like Stephen Blackpool, Louisa has no way out and “Neither Gradgrind nor the circus can restore the wasted life of Louisa” (Johnson 413). Mr. Gradgrind lays Louisa on the ground and “saw the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet” (165). Dickens uses the character of Louisa to support his criticism of urbanization and the detrimental effects it has on the human spirit. His portrayal of Louisa Gradgrind depicts her as an unfortunate product of industrialization.Hard Times also employs the structure of the novel and the physicality of Coketown to symbolize the town as a microcosm of industrialization. In her article on Hard Times, Johnson asserts that “the shape of the novel recreates the dynamics of urban industrialization” (411). Johnson writes that “according to the OED, coke is a North-country word probably derived from the word ‘colk’ which means core. Coke is ‘the solid substance left after mineral coal has been deprived by dry distillation of its volatile constituents'” (412). Here Johnson points out that even the name of the fictional town Dickens creates is based on urban factory imagery. The actual structure of Hard Times alludes to the mechanized formula of industrialization. Dickens organizes the novel into three books: “Sowing,” “Reaping,” and “Garnering.” These titles represent an organic analogy that stands in ironic contrast to the mechanized skeletons it describes. Dickens “implicitly criticizes the unnatural method of production that the factory system represents” (Johnson 414). Dickens titles the sections of his novel after rural industry to exemplify his distain for capitalist urbanization. The entire novel is regimentally broken into these three books, and each book produces more than ten chapters. This structure of the novel alludes to the restricted, rigid structure of an industrialized society.Dickens uses imagery to portray the physical workings of Coketown as a factory. The narrator describes Coketown as “a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it. […] It was a town of machinery and tall chimney. […] It had a black canal in it” (Dickens 20). The narrator goes on to say that “it contained several large streets all very like one another […] inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours […] to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morow” (21). Here he illustrates the town through drab, monotonous scenery, much like that of an urban factory. Each inhabitant of the town “is to know exactly the same as the others; there is to be no imagination, no individuality, for each is to be a standardized wheel in the social engine” (Manlove 223). Coketown’s physical makeup is droning and the lives of its citizens repetitious, similar to an assembly line. Coketown is “geared-and the word is meant also literally-to the ceaseless minds and bodies unendingly driven to the perpetuation of useless knowledge and the manufacture of vulgar objects” (Manlove 224). The physical structure of the town and its inhabitants exemplifies the urbanized way of life that exists there. Dickens depicts Coketown as a factory to emblemize its role in the microcosm of industry.Though Hard Times, when compared to Charles Dickens’s other works, is often less recognized or appreciated by readers, it is a novel steeped in disparagement of the effects industrialization had on England’s societal values. Though England’s Industrial Revolution spawned numerous advantageous aspects of English life, the “bulk of the Victorian cultural elite…shares Dickens’s more negative view of the machine” (Manlove 224). With his use of irony and imagery, the author sheds an unkind light on the industrialization of his country. Dickens uses the novel to present a microcosm of industrialization. Stephen Blackpool represents the working class, Louisa Gradgrind symbolizes the mechanized product of industrialization, and the physicality of the novel and town signify an urban factory.Works CitedCarlyle, Thomas. “The Condition of the Working Class.” Hard Times: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Fred Kaplan and Sylvere Monod New York: Norton & Company, 2001. 345.Christ, Carol T., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age. New York: Norton & Company, 2000.Dickens, Charles. Hard Times: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Fred Kaplan and Sylvere Monod New York: Norton & Company, 2001. 5-222.Johnson, Patricia E. “Hard Times and the Structure of Industrialism: The Novel as a Factory.” Hard Times: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Fred Kaplan and Sylvere Monod New York: Norton & Company, 2001. 409-418.Manlove, Colin. “Charles Kingsley, H.G. Wells, and the Machine in Victorian Fiction.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 48 (1993): 212-39.O’Flinn, Paul. “Them and US in Literature: Hands, Knees, and a Book by Dickens.” Reds: Marxists and Culture. 2001.10 December 2004 http://www.marxists.de/culture/them-n-us/08-dickens.htm.
Love versus Reality in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times
In Hard Times, Charles Dickens uses the character of Signor Jupe to portray the clash between love and reality. Signor Jupe reveals his philosophy of love as a meaningful force through his actions at the start of the novel. By accepting responsiblity for the formative years of his daughter’s life, he positions her as a stark contrast to the children subjected to the Gradgrind system. Although he never appears in the novel as a physical presence, it is this very lack of presence that allows him to emphasize the theme of love versus reality. Signor Jupe exists in the novel only as an idea; yet he is a character who, without the use of dialogue or direct action, profoundly embodies one of the major themes of the book. The philosophy of love as a meaningful and moving force in human affairs is strengthened by his actions in the early chapters of the novel; specifically, when he leaves Sissy on her own. Sissy holds strongly to the idea that Signor Jupe left her in order to provide her with a better future – that he saw her witnessing his slow deterioration, and left to spare her that pain. She also obviously believes that he will return to her in the future. Gradgrind states “that if [Sissy] had been properly trained from an early age she would have remonstrated to herself on sound principles the baselessness of these fantastic hopes” (1). The contrast between these two philosophies is startling; they represent opposite ends of the spectrum. However, despite Sissy’s continued immersion in the Gradgrind system, she retains hope for her father’s return, and continues entertaining her own ideas of why he left. By leaving Sissy, Jupe provides a small opening in which to insert human emotion into the Gradgrind family and the Gradgrind system, pitting them against each other in a test to determine whether they possess stability and endurance, and whether or not the human soul can exist in their system without distortion. Finally, even Gradgrind himself is forced to succumb to the effects of human emotion, disavowing the truth in his own system, and switching roles with Sissy, learning from her what she learned from her father. It is apparent that without the influence and disappearance of Signor Jupe, these events would have unfolded in a different manner, removing Sissy from the lives of the Gradgrinds.Signor Jupe does not, at any point in the novel, appear as a flesh and blood character. Rather, he is a representation of a contrasting philosophy which is given a name and history in order to better explain how Sissy remains a stolid outpost of love against the assault of the Gradgrind system. In one scene, Louisa questions Sissy about her life with her father, and Sissy speaks of “wrong books” (2) that she read on occasion to her father. Obviously they were books of a fictional nature, books that never would have been allowed in the Gradgrind household. This is one instance where Signor Jupe is insinuated into the novel in order to offer an alternative to the world of facts and calculations espoused by Gradgrind. In small ways, the story that Sissy tells Louisa continues to oppose Gradgrind, even after she has finished speaking; for example, Louisa begins to hope as fervently as Sissy does for a letter from Signor Jupe, although her father regards this as extremely unlikely. Even though she has been trained to be skeptical about such things, the hope that the letter may come brings tears to Louisa’s eyes as well as Sissy’s – another triumph for the philosophy of love represented by Signor Jupe. Because he is not a character who engages in direct, spoken dialogue, Signor Jupe is accorded a kind of thought dialogue, which makes him a constant presence that renders him far more significant than some of the more major characters in the novel. Dickens does not directly refer to Signor Jupe’s location or well-being until the return of the dog Merrylegs at the very end of the book. Although he finally reveals that he will not be returning to Sissy, by this point that small fact hardly matters; his influence has succeeded in destroying the Gradgrind system, and in showing that love and emotional health are far more important than living in the confines of a calculated reality.
Black Pools of Tragedy
Charles Dicken’s Hard Times is a novel depicting the destructive forces of utilitarianism on the modern world following the Industrial Revolution. Through the vivid characters interwoven throughout the text, Dickens exemplifies the devastation caused by the mechanization and dehumanization of human beings as factory workers. This central theme is most readily seen in the tragic character of Stephen Blackpool and the unbefitting repetition of struggles he is forced to endure for the sake of morality and personal integrity. Even Stephen’s last name alludes to the somber, black pools of tragedy that immerse his life as a humble factory worker. Dickens uses the setting in which Stephen Blackpool lives, as well as his appearance, speech, social interactions, and death, to unashamedly attack the destructive nature of utilitarianism.In the tenth chapter of Dicken’s Book the First, Stephen Blackpool is first introduced as a character in the drab Coketown factory setting. “In the hardest working part of Coketown…where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in…the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death…among the multitude of Coketown…lived a certain Stephen Blackpool, forty years of age” (68). Stephen comes from the inner most heart of the laboring town. Whereas personified “Nature” would be expected to live amongst a healthy community of people, artificial bricks have been erected in Coketown to create an “unnatural” town with images of deadly gas, fumes, and smog. Even the family unit, which is often viewed as the core element of most communities, has been cannibalized and set against itself with competition, “shouldering, and trampling.” Within the harsh and oftentimes dangerous world of factory labor, a man of forty years of age would be considered an elder worker. For Steven to have survived to the age of forty attests to his diligence and endurance as a loom weaver. The setting in which Stephen is described emphasizes the contrast between the external, noxious environment and his true identity that is revealed as a man of heart, integrity, and goodness in the following chapters.Decades of work as a weaver in Coketown have shaped the physical appearance of Stephen’s body: “a rather stooping man, with a knitted brow, a pondering expression of face, and a hard-looking head sufficiently capacious” (68). Stern, weathered, and “stooping” images depict Stephen’s physical condition, but beyond the deep brow and hunching shoulders lie glimpses into his true character: a “pondering,” searching, “hard-looking” man with an ample capacity for goodness. Following this brief description of Stephen’s appearance, the reader is immediately told, “whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, he had been possessed of somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own” (68). Undoubtedly Stephen Blackpool is an afflicted character with ragged scars from life in Coketown. The roses of life, whether rooted in a happy marriage, a faithful family, a satisfying job, or a life of fruitful works, have all been denied to Stephen. As a man with thorns and pain, Stephen cannot survive in his present position. Coketown and other factory towns driven solely by industry and production do not value individuals like Stephen. “He was a good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect integrity” (69). The primary value of Stephen’s life is placed in his identity as a “good power-loom weaver.” Only secondarily can he be described as having impeccable integrity because workers in this utilitarian system were solely valued in the quantitative measures of production. Through the character of Stephen Blackpool, Dickens asserts integrity and individuality have no place to root and grow in these bleak conditions.Allegorically, Stephen can be seen as a character that represents what happens to industrial workers when they are dehumanized and valued only for the sake of factory output. While this allegorical characterization holds true throughout Dicken’s novel, Stephen can also be examined on a distinct and unique level when compared to the other factory workers. When seen in relation to the other laborers, referred to as “Hands” in Hard Times, Stephen “held no station among the other Hands who could make speeches and carry on debates” (68). His simple speech and inability to deny personal integrity leads Stephen into further tragedy once Slackbridge and other union agitators rise up against him. After being cast out of his workers’ group, Stephen must report to the factory owner Mr. Bounderby. When prompted by Bounderby to relay information on the individuals instigating the United Aggregate Tribunal, Steven responds, “They’ve not doon me a kindness…but what believes as he has doon his duty by the rest and by himself. God forbid as I, that ha’ ett’n an drooken wi’ em, an seet’n wi’ em, and toil’n wi’ em, and lov’n ’em, should fail fur to stan by ’em ‘wi the truth, let ’em ha doon to me what they may” (151). Even though Stephen has been rejected and abandoned by his fellow workers, he refuses to give Bounderby any information to use against the laborers. Not only does Stephen’s character reflect the contrast between the agitators’ corruption and his own standard of virtue, but his character also emphasizes the contrasts between the laborers’ poverty and brotherhood as compared to Bounderby’s affluence and self-interest. To greater exemplify the disparity between Stephen and Bounderby’s characters, Dickens writes, “‘Now, a’ God’s name,’ said Stephen Blackpool, ‘show me the law to help me!’ ‘Hem! There’s a sanctity in this relation of life,’ said Mr Bounderby, ‘and-and-it must be kept up'” (79). In communities like Coketown, equality between the factory laborers and owners cannot exist because prominent figures like Bounderby are sure to maintain “sanctity” and inequality no matter what the moral cost. When looking at the character of Stephen Blackpool, Dickens stresses the stark contrast and incompatibility between the ideals of utilitarian communities as opposed to the ideals of a man like Stephen Blackpool with “perfect integrity.”Once Stephen is exiled from Coketown for his alleged and unfounded blasphemy, he finds himself in search of a new home. Upon Stephen’s departure from Coketown, Dickens remarks, “so strange to turn from the chimneys to the birds. So strange to have the road-dust on his feet instead of the coal-grit. So strange to have lived to his time of life, and yet to be beginning like a boy this summer morning!” (167). So strange to fathom the persecution thrown on a man like Stephen Blackpool with faultless character. When Stephen’s name is eventually slandered for the robbery of Bounderby’s bank, he decidedly returns to Coketown to defend his honor and integrity. However, after falling down the Old Hell Shaft, Stephen expresses his dying wish to Mr. Gradgrind, “Sir, yo will clear me an mak my name good wi’ aw men. This I leave to you” (274). Without a name of honor to live on, Coketown’s agitators would eternally defeat Stephen’s integrity; therefore a cleared name for Stephen is of utmost importance. Once Stephen succumbs to his fatal wounds from the fall, Dickens writes, “the star had shown him where to find the God of the poor; and through humility, and sorrow, and forgiveness, he had gone to his Redeemer’s rest” (275). Only in death can a good man like Stephen find peace and rest from the black pools of tragedy that plagued his life in the utilitarian setting of Coketown.Dicken’s theme of depicting the destructive forces of utilitarianism, mechanization, and dehumanization is found throughout the context of Hard Times, and specifically in the character of Stephen Blackpool. By shaping the honor displayed in this character’s physical appearance, speech, social interactions and death to blatantly contrast the lack of morality in utilitarian industrialization, Dickens voices his condemnation on the destructive dehumanization present during this modern era. Unless changes are made, in the words of Stephen Blackpoola man of impeccable integritythe world will flood with black pools of tragedy and inevitably become “a muddle! Aw a muddle!” (273).
Louisa as Victim
Charles Dickens’ Hard Times is a bleak book. Its characters are a collection of victims and victimizers, each pitiable or damnable. Of this sorrowful lot, perhaps the most tragic individual is Louisa Gradgrind. Ingrained since childhood with various “Facts” and ” – ologies,” Louisa is rendered emotionally sterile by her “eminently empirical” father, her “whelp” of a brother, and her boorish husband. When a charismatic young charmer unleashes within her a flood of feeling, she recognizes her life to be empty, and is deeply changed. Louisa’s transition, from a model of “Fact” to a victim thereof, is a profound event, and forms the climax of the major plot line. Dickens crafts the metamorphosis expertly in the chapters immediately following the bank robbery (VIII through XII of Book II) by sending Louisa through a carefully structured sequence of events – metaphorically described by Mrs. Sparsit as a “staircase.” These events show Louisa to be a complex and dynamic character, able to recognize her misery, yet unable to escape it. Dickens first sets Louisa toward her transition after the bank robbery. Louisa fears her brother Tom may know something about what happened that he is not telling, and goes to his room late one night to find out. She approaches him as always, in love, beseeching him with “Tom, have you anything to tell me? If you ever loved me in your life, and have anything concealed from everyone besides, tell it to me” (189). Disregarding her, Tom replies to this emotional plea with a cold “I don’t know what you mean, Loo. You have been dreaming” (189). She tries again and again to solicit an answer, pouring her heart out to her brother. Tom, however, remains unresponsive. Her last question, “Have you nothing more to tell me?” (191), after she has already said goodnight, indicates that Louisa is not satisfied by her brother’s claim to ignorance, and that she suspects he is hiding something. With this scene Dickens reveals a small change in Louisa; she no longer places absolute trust in her brother. The author peels away one of Louisa’s most important relationships. By beginning to discover the truth about her brother, Louisa has opened Pandora’s box, and starts to think about the quality of her other relationships. Her husband, the blustery Mr. Bounderby, certainly seems in need of review. One morning shortly after her encounter with Tom, Louisa finds herself fed up with her husband when he becomes upset over a minor dispute involving Mrs. Sparsit. “‘What is the matter with you?’ asked Louisa, coldly surprised. What has given you offense?'” (195). Louisa has never challenged Bounderby so openly, and indeed Mr. Harthouse thought that “she looked at [Bounderby]…with a proud color in her face that was a new change” (195). Louisa seems to be developing some mettle, and with it becoming less content with her life. Indeed, “the Sparsit action upon Mr. Bounderby … strengthened the dangerous alienation from her husband” (195). In this scene Dickens propels Louisa further toward rejection of her current life by having her realize her disdain for Mr. Bounderby. The next stair Dickens creates for poor Louisa to step down upon is the death of her mother. Mrs. Gradgrind has always been sickly, and her death does little to change her role in the novel. However, with her last words to Louisa she tells of “something – not an ology at all – that your father has missed” (199). While the old woman does not know what that something is, her mention of it confirms in Louisa what she has already begun to realize, that her life is blank. She ventures further down her staircase. It is important to note that Louisa has not come to all these realizations by herself, but has found a willing guide – tempter really – in the charming and knavish form of Mr. James Harthouse. Harthouse is a bored, well-to-do man who has come to Coketown to become acquainted with the way of things there. He has set his sights on Louisa, and “in degrees so fine that she could not retrace them if she tried” (196) has grown with her in “confidence against her husband” (195). Dickens uses Harthouse as a catalyst for Louisa’s rejection of the people in her life and as the primary agent for her change of character. When he makes his move one stormy night when Bounderby is away, James Harthouse unwittingly releases a flood of emotion in Louisa, and ushers the major story line toward its climax. As he begs and pleads with Louisa to love him, professing his undying devotion, she is clearly confused. She knows adultery is wrong, but cannot deny the feelings welling up within her, feelings she has ignored her entire life. Later she will tell her father, “if you ask me whether I have loved him, or do love him, I tell you plainly, Father, that it may be so. I don’t know” (218). The point is that Louisa has encountered something with which she cannot cope, despite all her training. In this disconcerted and jumbled state, Louisa tricks Harthouse into leaving, and flees home to confront her father. In this climactic scene Louisa blasts her father’s utilitarian system, and the reader sees her to be fully aware of the gaping hole in her life where soul and spirit should be. “Colorless,” “disheveled,” “defiant” and despairing” (215), Louisa demands of her father, “How could you give me life, and take from me all he inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the faces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, what have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?” (215). This passionate speech is, of course, a significant departure from the girl who was a model of “Fact.” Dickens has built Louisa up to this point, and now she can no longer suppress her emotions . Her words are elegant and poetic; she employs vivid metaphors. Soliloquizing with the drama of a dying diva, the tragic girl finally collapses into an “insensible heap” (218) while crying to her father “in a terrible voice, I shall die if you hold me! Let me fall upon the ground!'” (218). Louisa has, to say it bluntly, snapped. She could no longer take so meaningless a life, and fought her way free. She does not return to Mr. Bounderby, but ironically finds herself now being cared for by Sissy, the girl she once ignored. With Sissy’s help, Louisa will go on in life, and reclaim some of those things denied to her. Dickens’ forecast for her is hopeful and positive:”…Happy Sissy’s children loving her; all children loving her; she, grown learned in childish lore; thinking no innocent and pretty fancy ever to be despised; trying hard to know her humbler fellow-creatures, and to beautify their lives of machinery and reality with those imaginative graces and delights without which the heart of infancy will wither up; the sturdiest physical manhood will be morally stark death, and the plainest national prosperity figures can show will be the Writing on the Wall – she holding this course as part of no fantastic vow, or bond, or brotherhood, or sisterhood, or pledge, or convenant, or fancy dress, or fancy fair, but simply as a duty to be done.” (292)Louisa survived her descent down the staircase, and indeed emerged stronger. Through the ordeal Dickens has shown Louisa to be a complex and dynamic character; she has the insight to see past the world that entraps so many around her and the courage and strength of will to escape it. Though it is difficult to label any of the characters in Hard Times “triumphant,” Louisa does overcome great odds to free herself. While most of Dickens’ characters learn nothing throughout the novel, Louisa, driven by her extreme circumstances, perseveres – a single bright ember burning amongst the gray ash.