Dickens has cleverly used exaggeration in Hard Times, in the form of caricature and farce to criticize the theory of utilitarianism; the popular way of living in the Victorian age. Utilitarianism comes under the theory of consequentialism which dictates that one should always judge an action from its consequences, and follow the course which benefits the majority. By exaggerating his characters he essentially uses them to represent varying views on utilitarianism; ie; what it implies not only as the basis of society but also at the personal level. Through this hyperbolic representation of his characters he emphasizes what they each stand for; for example Thomas Gradgrind’s staunch belief in Fact’s as opposed to Sissy Jupe, who is the living embodiment of Fancy. Perhaps the most ostentatiously amplified supporter of utilitarianism would be Joseph Bounderby, the so called self-made man who turns out to be a fraud. Dickens also gives his characters diverting traits, exaggerated through repetion, which give the novel a satirical turn. Dickens’ extravagant characters in Hard Times not only attach humor to the story but also ridicule the rigid world of the utilitarian system.
The novel Hard Times begins with Thomas Gradgrind diligently stating the importance of basing one’s life solely on the principle of fact (acquainting the reader with the utilitarian way of thinking) to an audience of school children. He starts off as the epitome of this philosophy, believing in everything that is calculated and factual and disregarding fancy and imagination as fatal follies of human nature. He is the caricature of this principle, for not only does he simply believe in it but it is also emphasized through his movement, his ‘inflexible, dry and dictatorial’ voice and most of all his very appearance (‘square wall of a forehead’ etc). Gradgrind is the embodiment of everything that is rigid and structured, and this exaggeration of Gradgrind’s character brings out Dickens criticism of utilitarianism.
‘the speakers obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders, -nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was, -all helped the emphasis.’
Dickens, through Gradgrind’s caricature represents the ridicule of utilitarianism; am ideology lacking imagination and largely based on logic and facts.
Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind’s daughter is a far more complicated character than most others in the novel. She contains a child’s imagination, and a human curiosity which is stifled but her up bringing does not allow her to indulge in them. Louisa is portrayed as an oddly conflicted character, one who suffers from a ‘starved imagination’, yet rendered incapable of understanding her emotions or even herself due to her strictly factual education. This depiction of her character indicates the failings of the utilitarian system, and evokes strong feelings of resentment in any reader against such a principle. Through this exaggerated and rather bleak portrayal, Dickens is creating an impression of what life would be like if we killed the embers of fancy, feelings or pretty much anything that defines our humanity. Louisa’s pain for being unable to express herself comes through from her incurable attraction to fire. The fire also exists within her; ‘a fire with nothing to burn’; representing her passion which lacks an outlet. She has been forbidden to ‘wonder’; thus being unable to cultivate her ‘sentiments and affections’. Louisa, unable to express the fire within her, possesses a strange obsession with fire. She is forever seen staring at it; ‘as is she were reading what she asked in the fire’. It’s as if she is searching for answers, answers she can’t get anywhere else. Her overemphasized fixation on fire brings to light her inner turmoil which results in external contradictions in her personality, recognized by James Harthouse later on;...
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