AP English Lit
In the novel, “Hard Times,” Charles Dickens uses Mr. Gradgrind, Louisa Gradgrind and Sissy Jupe to express his view on Utilitarianism. Utilitarians believe “our moral faculty, according to all those of its interpreters who are entitled to the name of thinkers, supplies us only with the general principles of moral judgments; it is a branch of our reason, not of our sensitive faculty; and must be looked to for the abstract doctrines of morality, not for perception of it in the concrete.” (Mill) They believed that things should only be done if they are for the good of the majority. Dickens did not agree with utilitarian beliefs.
Mr. Thomas Gradgrind is used by Dickens to represent a utilitarian leader. Dickens reveals Gradgrind at the beginning of the novel as being “inflexible, dry and dictatorial.” (Dickens, 11) He uses repetitive passive voice in describing Gradgrind to emphasize Gradgrind’s unemotional, robotic and uncaring nature. The way Dickens describes Gradgrind relates to the novel as a whole because he is the representation of utilitarianism. “Utilitarianism requires [one] to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator” (Mill) which is exactly what Gradgrind is. He only believes in fact and not in fanciful imaginations. Gradgrind also stresses the importance of education “that education and opinion, which have so vast a power over human character, should so use that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the practice of such modes of conduct, negative and positive, as regard for the universal happiness prescribes; so that not only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to himself, consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every individual one of the habitual motives of action, and the sentiments connected therewith may fill a large and prominent place in every human being's sentient existence” (Mill).
Louisa Gradgrind is used by Charles Dickens to show the negative effects he believes utilitarianism has on people. Louisa had a desire and hunger for something more than what was provided for her as she was growing up under her utilitarian father. She had a “starved imagination keeping life in it somehow… [she had] uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes which had something painful in them” (Dickens 22). These painful flashes show how disconnected from her emotions she is because she was taught only facts, according to utilitarian beliefs, and so she doesn’t know how to deal with her emotions. This shows that Dickens believes that a person cannot properly function in society by being taught just the facts of life.
Sissy Jupe is the foil to Louisa because she is cheerful and imaginative; whereas Louisa is unfeeling because of the way her father raised her. Sissy is the character Dickens uses to portray his ideas of the correct way a child should be raised. Sissy, when asked to describe a horse, thinks of the fanciful things instead of the dry, factual definition. Dickens shows his preference of Sissy by describing the “deeper and more lustrous color” (Dickens 14) she received from the sun, while the sun on Bitzer, a utilitarian caricature, seemed to “draw out of him what little color he ever possessed” (Dickens 14). Her name is also a rebellion from utilitarian beliefs. Mr. Gradgrind tells her that Sissy is an uncommon name, and it needs to be changed to be more uniform and “normal”. Her name represents her femininity and fancifulness that goes against utilitarian beliefs. Sissy relies on her wits and her own knowledge from her father and the circus when she answers Gradgrind’s question about the horse while utilitarians believe that “a simple reliance on intuition, for example, cannot resolve conflicts” (Sidgwick). Utilitarians like Gradgrind only believe in fact and so Sissy’s answer that was not dry and purely factual could not, in their eyes, correctly answer the question, or “resolve the conflict.”
Utilitarians believe in education by just facts, strict and impartial views on life, and the importance of education. However, Dickens disagrees and in the novel “Hard Times” he uses Mr. Gradgrind to show the strictness of utilitarianism, Louisa Gradgrind to show the negative effects it has on people and Sissy Jupe to portray his views on how people should live their lives in contrast to utilitarianism. He encourages imagination and excessiveness and mocks strict uniformity.