‘Hard Time’s as a novel of social realism is wholly unsuccessful. Do you agree? ‘Hard Times’ is a novel based on a short visit made by the author Charles Dickens to a town similar to ‘Coketown’ called Preston. He made this journey in an attempt to identify the social problem of the exploitation of factory workers. Dickens was sensitive to the social abuses which pervaded the Victorian society and so with an approach of a utilitarian denial of human imagination; he used the factories of the fictional Coketown and juxtaposed them with the contrasting, imaginative and bizarre world of Sleary’s circus. ‘Hard Times’ therefore deals with a range of social issues including divisions of a working class, rights of the ‘common people’ to engage in fanciful amusement or entertainment and most of all an education for the less fortunate in this society. David Lodge in his essay suggests that the novel ‘manifests its identity as a polemical work; a critique of mid-Victorian industrial society dominated by materialism, acquisitiveness and ruthlessly competitive capitalist economics’ (Lodge, 1969). In the time of Dickens’ writing of the novel these qualities would have been represented specifically from the Utilitarian perspective. Dickens represents the industrial society with his fictional ‘Coketown’ setting. Coketown is emphasised as a ‘city of fact’ which introduces the means of a criticism or attack on the utilitarian principles. The inhabitants of this town lack individuality and freedom, forcing them to become merely products of a materialistic society. The emphasis on fact is insistent within this community and is drilled into the minds of everyone within it. In schools all children are taught only facts and not to let themselves be drawn into imagination or ‘fancy’. Dickens was required to write Hard Times in twenty sections to be published over a period of five months in his magazine ‘Household words’. He has filled the novel with his own philosophy and symbolism. Dickens expounds his philosophy in two ways: through straight third-person exposition and through the voices of his characters. As a novel of social realism, his approach to reality is allegorical in nature; his plot traces the effect of rational education of ‘cold hard fact’ on Gradgrind's two children and the attempt to enforce this regime of teaching simply fact without any trace of fancy or imagination on the children of the school. He highlights two problems in the text of his novel; the most important one is that of the educational system and what divides the school of Facts and the circus school of Fancy. Cissy is taken from the society in which she is able express herself and placed in a restricting society where she is made to suppress her knowledge of the fanciful depiction of the circus. This shows that the positive aspects of society cannot be destroyed easily. Fancy, imagination, compassion and hope will never disappear as they are an essential part of human nature which dickens preserves in such characters as Cissy, Rachael and Sleary. The conflicts of the two worlds of the schoolroom and the circus represent the adult attitudes toward life. While the schoolroom dehumanizes the little scholars, the circus, all fancy and love, restores humanity. Dickens shows this contrast between the two separate worlds persuasively in ‘Hard Times’. The criticism which could be made on this element of bringing the two completely contrasting societies; the capitalistic lifestyle and the lives of the workers would be unlikely to coincide with each other. It is unrealistic of this time to visualize a change in the society towards a more positive outcome. The second problem deals with the economic relationships of labor and management between the workers and the bosses. In this we see that Dickens lets the educational system be dominated by, rather than serve, the economic system. His philosophy, expounded through his characters, is best summarized by Sleary, who says...
Bibliography: Dickens, .., 1995. Hard Times. london: Penguin Classics.
Lodge, .., 1969. The rhetoric of Hard Times. Edward Grey edition twentieth century interpretations of Hard Times ed. s.l.:s.n.
Wheeler, .., 1994. English Fiction of Victorian period 1830-1890. New York: Longman publishing.
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