Analyse Dickens presentation of the conflict between fact and fancy in ‘Hard Times’
The novel Hard Times by Charles Dickens epitomises the social, political and economic values of Victorian England. Dickens attacks the conditions and exploitation of the workers by the factory owners, the social class divisions that favour dishonesty over honesty depending on the hierarchy of class status. He finds the utilitarian (fact) school of thought where facts and statistic’s are emphasised at the expense of imagination, art, feelings and wonder (fancy) emerging during this period disconcerting. Hard Times is divided into three separate books entitled: ‘Sowing’, ‘Reaping’ and ‘Garnering’. These sections exemplify the biblical concept of ‘whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ [Galatians 6:7]. Dickens uses harvesting as a symbol of something that is unchangeable and fancy as something that is changeable in people’s mind and imaginations. He demonstrates that both fancy and fact must work together in order for one to become a healthy human being.
The central character of Hard Times who most embodies the factual approach is Thomas Gradgrind. He is introduced to the readership at the beginning of the novel. In chapter one, ‘One Thing Needful’, Thomas Gradgrind is shown as the ‘speaker’. He is described to have a ‘square forefinger’ and ‘square wall of a forehead’ and their voice is described as ‘inflexible’, ‘dry’ and ‘dictatorial’. Dickens uses humour to exemplify the shape of his head: ‘all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie’, this humorous mocking of Gradgrind’s appearance by Dickens, establishes Dickens position on the factual interpretation of life by the utilitarians. Gradgrind is therefore a character that represents facts as his grotesque appearance reflects his method of teaching and furthermore the name ‘Gradgrind’ reflects the dull and repetitive motion of grinding. This reinforces the fact that Gradgrind’s teaching methods are as wearying as industrial processes. Gradgrind’s name could also imply that his characteristics have been ground down to the ideologies he now promotes.
In the novel Gradgrind is man of facts; he believes that the education system should be based on the philosophy of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a philosophical and political movement which gained interest in the nineteenth century. “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Fact. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out nothing else”. These emphatic proclamations are presented to the readership at the beginning of the novel. Gradgrind adopted this philosophy with vigour for his own children. Later on in the story Gradgrind is forced to acknowledge that his refusal to accept the validity of “fancy” had sown the seeds to the destruction of a happy life for his two eldest children. His first realisation occurs when his eldest daughter confides in him about her failed marriage to Mr Bounderby. Louisa feels no emotion toward her husband, this leads to the contemplation of the possible affair with Mr Harthouse. This is where the readers first see Louisa break away from her utilitarian upbringing and embrace a more fanciful approach to life. Louisa is in pain and in her agony tells her that he: ‘‘trained me from my cradle… I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny… what you have done with the garden that bloomed once, In this great wilderness”. Gradgrind in his astonishment expresses woefully “I never knew you were unhappy, my child”. She collapses to the floor into an insensible torpor, refusing help from her father. Furthermore, Gradgrind has to help his son Tom who has grown up to be a selfish, self-centred young man who discovers the pleasures of gambling. Tom conceals his hunger for fanciful gambling; here Dickens reveals that even in the most severe school, fancy lies underneath. This tempts him to steal from the bank at which he is...
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