The Intellectual Limits of Class: Fact vs. Truth in Hard Times and Howard’s End

May 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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