Throughout history, a divide has always existed between the rich and poor in society. However, during the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, this rift reached its peak. The working class labored for long hours and received miniscule wages, whereas the bourgeoisie grew abundantly wealthy through the labor of the working class. Published in 1848 and 1854 respectively, Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and Charles Dickens’ Hard Times both comment on these troubles. While Hard Times is a novel which tells a story and The Communist Manifesto is a short publication which tries to bring about social change, both writings offer a sharp critique of the class antagonism brought about by capitalism at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
From the opening of Hard Times, the setting of Coketown offers a sharp critique of the consequences involved with industrial capitalism. The town existed solely for the benefit of the bourgeoisie; however, this was brought about at the expense of the factory workers, or proletarians. Dickens described the town as “several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another.” Dickens recognized that the proletarians had no individuality. Before the Industrial Revolution, independent production was the norm, not the exception; therefore, the types of laborers were much more diverse. Any given laborer could have been a farmer, a nail-crafter, etc. This gave the laborer a much greater sense of individuality since there were different jobs within the working class. However, with the introduction of factories and mass production, the proletarians had no choice but to work in factories. Since almost the entire working class lived in factories, they began to be viewed more as one large group rather than as individuals. The sameness of Coketown illustrates this sameness among the working class.
In the same way, Marx claims that the bourgeoisie has taken away all individuality from the proletarians. In Marx’s view, capitalism causes money to be more important than the actual person. For example, Marx states, “In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.” According to Marx, the proletarian is dependent, or a slave, to money. Most proletarians had no desire to work long hours inside of a factory under horrid conditions, but they were forced to. While their wages were very meager, the workers still needed some wages. The only jobs available during the Industrial Revolution were grueling factory jobs. Since the proletarians had no choice on what type of job that they could hold, they had no individuality.
Ironically, money not only controls the lives of the proletarians, but it also greatly influenced the lives of the bourgeoisie. For many members of the bourgeoisie, money was the driving force in their lives. Marx lashed out against this when he stated, “The bourgeoisie…has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest.” Men no longer cared about respecting the rights of other men. The bourgeoisie simply wanted to do was to accumulate more and more wealth. The fact that this accumulation of wealth was accomplished through the suffering of other humans was of little importance. A man was judged by how much money he had; therefore, these men would do anything to acquire more of it. Traits like honor and being just no longer mattered to these members of the bourgeoisie.
The primary antagonist in Hard Times, Josiah Bounderby, would be classified as one of these members of the bourgeoisie. Bounderby is a man that would Marx would condemn emphatically since Bounderby focuses entirely on his own betterment. For instance, Bounderby frequently recounts how he was born to a very poor mother that abandoned him and through his own hard work, built his fortune. He...
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