Depiction Of The Victorian Society In Hard Times By Charles Dickens
Victorian period of 19th century was the time when advancement in science made people skeptical about their traditional values and beliefs. New ideas like Origin of Species by Charles Darwin brought about belief that only things that can be seen, reasoned and experimented upon can be called a fact. And only the facts are to be used and applied in life. It is the time when people of science refused to accept that, there are many other phenomena in the world that is beyond the scope of current scientific development. They completely reject the human aspect of life. So it is not surprising that Utilitarianism came to be the governing factor in all sphere of Victorian England.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is one of the Victorian writers. He is considered as one of the prominent novelists, and one of the few novelists whose works are still the most renowned. As per Khan (2017), “Most of his novels describe the hardships of life; also, his work as Hard Times, which described as a novel of his time”. The novel depicts the bad part of the new industrialized world of England. It vividly shows the deprived live. Similarly, the nineteenth century connects Victorian period with a realist works attempt to characterize the world and the mind, it attempts to reveal the Victorian world with its social concerns and had aim to express the personal private emotions of the novelist and define what would be real in literary fiction. Dickens one of the novelists doesn’t believe in Utilitarianism. His attitude towards Utilitarianism based Victorian society is reflected in some of his Novels but it is in Hard Times, published in 1854.
‘Hard times’ begins in a schoolroom where the objective “fact” and ‘fact alone’ is highlighted and the ideas of artistic beauty and subjective individual appreciation have no place. Mr. Thomas Gradgrind has so much faith in his system that his two eldest children Louisa and Tom count among his students. “Now, what I want I, Facts.” is the opening line of the novel. “Square Shaped” Mr. Thomas Gradgrind with a “wide, thin, and hard set” mouth dictatorial dry voice and the neck cloth tied “like a stubborn fact.” shown inspecting the class and offering guidance to the teacher, M’Choakumchild. For him the children are like a container to be filled up with the ‘facts’. Dickens offers a sample of this fact in the description of ‘horse’ rendered by the star student, Bitzer.
‘Quadruped, Graminivorous. Forty-teeth. namely twenty-four grinder, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Aged known by marks in mouth’. This sticking to the hard facts forms the basic idea of Utilitarian mode of education propounded by Mr. Gradgrind. He has so much faith in this method that he brings up his two eldest children Louisa and Tom with strict adherence to it.
However as his pupils grow up he realizes the shortcoming of his method wherein all the students are treated like homogenous raw materials to be processed in the factory of utilitarian education. His daughter marries an old man for convenience on his order. As Ali Taghizadeh, the lecturer of Razi University observes , “The Victorian society has filled to the brim the brain of Louisa with rules and figures, but of her heart it has robbed the immaterial part of her life”. Yet she ends up being swayed by passion and having an affair with a handsome young man.
His son Tom who rebels against his strictness typically over extends his freedom and end up hurting himself. After committing a crime, only trace of Utilitarianism he shows is in his readiness to put the blame on an innocent man. Biztner realizes that Tom is the actual thief and catches Tom. He doesn’t listen to the pitiful entreaty of Mr. Gradgrind to let go of Tom because he was taught in the school to be objective and stick to the fact. Mr. Gradgrind should be proud of his students’ achievement, but as a father he feels more for his son.
If Mr. Gradgrind is the advocate of mental mechanization then in Mr. Josiah Bounderby we find the champion of the physical mechanization. He is so obsessed with the utilitarian idea of sticking to the fact, the fact of making as much profit as possible. He dehumanizes his workers and calls them “hands” implying that as far as Bounderby is concerned his workers are just a pair of hands whose activity generates income for him. When one of his workers Stephen Blackpool comes to Mr. Bounderby seeking his advice about his marital problem, Bounderby heartlessly hurls Blackpool into the black pool of dismay by revealing the fact that divorce cost money, which is beyond Blackpool’s financial reach.
Character of Sissy Jupe who has a chance to grow up like normal children escapes the debilitating ‘education’ of Mr. Gradgrind that deformed his own children. She grows up happy because she was not coached to stick to the facts alone and do away with any kind of subjectivity. In the end she ironically becomes one person who saves the Gradgrind family. As Ali Taghizadeh, observes “she is an incarnation of the balance of intelligence and emotion, of the equilibrium between the logic of mind and that of the heart”.
As the title of the novel suggests, this novel is basically about the hard times people faced during the Victorian period. Industrial revolution was at its height during that time and it denied any physical respited to the working class while utilitarianism denied any comfort to the tired souls of the masses. Though Dickens did not directly criticize the systems of the time he did it indirectly through his writing. His characters reveal the condition of society and the people. In their bid to provide “the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number of people”, the advocate of utilitarianism ended up driving joy away from the life of Victorian society.
- David, C. (1972). Early Victorian Novelists. Ludhiana: Kalyani P ublisher.
- Dickens, C. (1869). Hard Times. cambridge, N: Ribersive Press. Hard times. (n.d.). litCharts. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Dell/Desktop/hard%20Times%20Dicken/hard-times-LitChart.
- Hudon, W,H. (2011). An Outline History of English Literature. Dehradun: Koncept Books. Mill, J. S. (1863). Utilitarianism. Feedbooks. Retrieved March 7, 2017, from file:///C:/Users/Dell/Desktop/hard%20Times%20Dicken/John+Stuart+Mill+-+Utilitarianism.pdf.
- Raj, P. P. (2012.). Hard Times as a Dickensian Dystopia. Rupkatha Journal. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from http://rupkatha.com/V4/n1/09_Dystopia_in_Hard times.pdf
- Taghizadhe, A. (n.d.). The Paradox of Utilitarianism in Hard Times: A Critical Approach.
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