In Dickens’s Hard Times, there are many symbols that run through the novel. These symbols stand for much more than just word you would come across multiple times as you read. Each symbol can mean something about human nature, human relationships, morality, and even about our society. Each symbol can have a different meaning to all of us. The symbols that came up frequently and that stood out to me as I read were staircase, Pegasus, smoke serpents, and fire.
The first symbol that stood out to me was the staircase Mrs. Sparsit imagines. This symbol stood out to me when Mrs. Sparsit notices that Louisa and Harthouse are spending a bunch of time together. As she notices this, she imagines that Louisa is running down some sort of staircase into a “dark pit of shame and ruin at the bottom.” I believe that this staircase represents her belief that Louisa is going to disappear with Harthouse and ruin herself forever. Mrs. Sparsit has disliked Bounderby’s marriage to the Louisa and has always hoped to marry him herself. So this makes her very happy by Louisa’s action to disappear with Harthouse. Through the staircase, Dickens reveals how Mrs. Sparsit’s character is hypocritical. He also suggests that Mrs. Sparsit’s own self misinterprets the situation between Louisa and Harthouse. She misinterprets this because she ends up in shame by having an affair with Harthouse and Louisa ends up returning home to her father.
The next symbol that stood out to me was the Pegasus from Mrs. Sleary’s circus. Mr. Sleary’s circus entertainers would stay at an inn called the Pegasus Arms. The symbol is inside of this inn. On the inside of this inn, the symbol is a Pegasus that is a model of a flying horse with golden stars stuck on all over him. This symbol, the Pegasus, represents a world of fantasy and beauty from which Gradgrinds children are not a part of. There is a point when Mr. Gradgrind informs the pupils at his school that wallpaper with horses on it is unrealistic because horses do not in fact live on walls. He always taught the kids hard facts and nothing but them and to not have an imagination. The circus people however live in a world in which horses can dance and flying horses can be imagined even if they do not in fact really exist in the real world. The name of this inn shows the contrast between the imaginative and very happy world of the circus and Mr. Gradgrind’s belief in the importance of fact and to have no imagination.
Another symbol that stood out to me was the smoke serpents above Coketown. The symbol was the streams of smoke that was in the skies above Coketown. These streams are the outcome of factories and industrialization. However, these smoke serpents also represent the obliviousness of some factory owners like Bounderby. He is always so focused on making as much money and profit as he possibly can. Bounderby concludes that the serpents of smoke are a positive sign that the factories are producing and making a good profit. Bounderby fails to see the smoke as a form of unhealthy pollution because he is so concerned about making a profit. He also fails to recognize his own abuse of the hands in his factories. He does not realize how miserable and poor his workers are and is more worried about his business and himself.
The final symbol that stood out to me was fire. The first time the symbol fire stood out to me was when Louisa is first introduced in Chapter 3. The narrator explains that there is a “fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow.” This shows that Louisa seems she has not listened to her father’s beliefs against wondering and imagining. The fire also shows a certain kid of warmth. It is says that Louisa often stares into the fireplace when she is alone. She stares as if she sees things in the flames that others do not, like her rigid father and brother. However, there is also another kind of fire that stands out to me in Hard Times. The other time I think of fire in this novel is the fires that keep the factories running. The fire provides heat and power for machines. This shows that fire can be an example of an evil that can be used as a greater good. Through this symbol, Dickens shows the importance of imagination to show the industrialization of human nature.
In conclusion, symbols can mean and represent many things in life. People use different symbols every day to represent something that they believe in. For example, many very religious people may wear a cross around their neck to show a symbol of faith just how the Pegasus from Mrs. Sleary’s circus is a symbol to the people to have an imagination. These symbols give these people hope and help them show what they believe in and what it stands for. I believe people use symbols in their everyday life even if they do not realize it. Whether it be a certain type of clothing brand you are wearing, or going to a baseball game and wearing your teams jersey, you are putting on that symbol and representing what it stands for. With that being said, I believe we use symbols everyday in out world without realizing it and they help show what we stand and what we believe in. Work Cited
Dickens Charles. Hard times
New York; Oxford, 2006