Archive for August, 2010


Abstract:  Written to ‘shake some people in a terrible mistake of these days’. Hard Times by Charles Dickens flies the banner of social reform, touching on themes of Education, Industrialization, Political Economy and, Utilitarianism in the sweeping Industrial Revolution of the 1850’s. This paper provides an analysis of how Charles Dickens’ viewed mechanical education and industrialism as regressive in its impact on human beings and society as illustrated in his novel “Hard Times”. It looks at Dickens’ argument that industrial society is harmful to human growth and development.



“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life”; with these lines, Hard Times (1854), the famous noble by Charles Dickens begins.


“Thomas Grad grind, a citizen of the northern industrial town of Coke town, is a convinced Utilitarian: an enemy to Fancy and a worshiper of Fact. He is intent on having the pupils in his model school—who include his children, Tom and Louisa—overcrowded so full of knowledge as to leave no room for anything else. Thomas Grad grind” is only another name for definitions, demonstration, stats and, calculations”

‘Hard Times’ is constructed around the opposition between fact and fancy.  Dickens criticizes the nineteenth century materialist and utilitarian philosophy, which had turned man into a simple component in the large machine of the society, leaving human being as ‘Production Input. Dickens denounces the political economy and the law system of the age, which were only concerned with raw facts and statistics, not minding the poverty and the hardships of the working class individual. Dickens completely demolishes the materialist and reductionist philosophy of his age, showing the irrationality of cultivating nothing but the totally inhuman ideas connected with fact and plain reality.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens flies the banner of social reform, touching on themes of Education, Industrialization, Political Economy and, Utilitarianism in the sweeping Industrial Revolution of the 1850’s. This paper provides an analysis of how Charles Dickens’ viewed mechanical education and industrialism as regressive in its impact on human beings and society as illustrated in his novel “Hard Times”. It looks at Dickens’ argument that industrial society is harmful to human growth and development and how his use of satire and humor to appeal to readers. Nevertheless, the noble is, at the same time, a social and a philosophical critique.

Hard Times was written to ‘shake some people in a terrible mistake of these days’.


Charles Dickens, a typical author, much loved for his great contribution to classic English literature was well known for his extraordinary epic stories, characters and in-depth representation of ‘modern-day life’. Hard Times is art work of Charles Dickens on a series of contrasts, between fact and fancy, head and heart, age and youth, work and play.

His own story is one of rags to riches. He was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. The good fortune of being sent to school at the age of nine was short-lived because his father, was imprisoned for bad debt. Charles was sent to work in Warren’s blacking factory and endured appalling conditions as well as loneliness and despair. After three years he was returned to school, but the experience was never forgotten and became fictionalized in two of his better-known novels ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’.

Like many others, he began his literary career as a journalist. His own father became a reporter and Charles began with the journals ‘The Mirror of Parliament’ and ‘The True Sun’. Then in 1833 he became parliamentary journalist for The Morning Chronicle. With new contacts in the press he was able to publish a series of sketches under the pseudonym ‘Boz’. In April 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of George Hogarth who edited ‘Sketches by Boz’. Within the same month came the publication of the highly successful ‘Pickwick Papers’, and from that point on there was no looking back for Dickens.

As well as a huge list of novels he published autobiography, edited weekly periodicals including ‘Household Words’ and ‘All Year Round’, wrote travel books and administered charitable organizations. He was also a theatre enthusiast, wrote plays and performed before Queen Victoria in 1851. Dickens began working on ‘Hard Times’ in January 1854 and completed writing the novel in July of the same year.

 His energy was inexhaustible and he spent much time abroad – for example lecturing against slavery in the United States and touring Italy with companions Augustus Egg and Wilkie Collins, a contemporary writer who inspired Dickens’ final unfinished novel ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

He was estranged from his wife in 1858 after the birth of their ten children, but maintained relations with his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan. He died of a stroke in 1870.



Throughout the novel there is a tight, airless atmosphere informed by the utilitarian ethic; English life is no longer organic and whole but lived according to a poisonous theory which allows the rich and powerful to exert their will upon their employees and upon nature itself. The industrial city of Coke town is itself begrimed into colorlessness, shrouded in fumes and the unending plumes of reek arising from its many chimneys. The characters, with the exception of Sissy Jupe and members of the circus troupe, act less like human beings than like automata, programmed to respond to life and to each other by standards of measurable expediency alone. Freedom, humor, and art are symbolized by the circus performers; in glimpses of them (and thus, into the lives of characteristically humorous Dickensian characters), Dickens contrasts the life of imagination with the life of utility.



Thomas Gradgrind

Thomas Gradgrind is the first character we meet in Hard Times, and one of the central figures through whom Dickens weaves a web of intricately connected plotlines and characters. Dickens introduces us to this character with a description of his most central feature: his mechanized, monotone attitude and appearance.

Mr. Gradgrind expounds his philosophy of calculating, rational self-interest. He believes that human nature can be governed by completely rational rules, and he is “ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you what it comes to.” This philosophy has brought Mr. Gradgrind much financial and social success. He has made his fortune as a hardware merchant, a trade that, appropriately, deals in hard, material reality. Later, he becomes a Member of Parliament, a position that allows him to indulge his interest in tabulating data about the people of England. Although he is not a factory owner, Mr. Gradgrind evinces the spirit of the Industrial Revolution insofar as he treats people like machines that can be reduced to a number of scientific principles.

Gradgrind undergoes a significant change in the course of the novel. When Louisa confesses that she feels something important is missing in her life and that she is desperately unhappy with her marriage, Gradgrind begins to realize that his system of education may not be perfect. This intuition is confirmed when he learns that Tom has robbed Bounderby’s bank. Faced with these failures of his system, Gradgrind admits, “The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.”


Cecilia “Sissy” Jupe

Sissy is abandoned by her father who is a circus performer. He feels that she will have a better life if he is not able to hinder her progress in society. Sissy lives with the Gradgrind family but she is a poor pupil at their school. In contrast to Mr. Gradgrind, Sissy lives by the philosophy of emotion, fancy, hope and kindness. At the end of the novel, Dickens writes that Sissy grows ever happier and she eventually has children of her own to care for. At the end of the noble, Slissy is only the character left who lives a happy life.


Louisa Gradgrind/Louisa Bounderby

Louisa is one of the central characters of the novel. She is the eldest of the Gradgrind children and the prize pupil of the educational system. When she grows older, her father arranges her marriage to Mr. Bounderby. Throughout her life, Louisa is very unfulfilled because she has been forced to deny her emotions. She has an emotional breakdown after being tempted into infidelity by Mr. Harthouse. Her marriage with Mr. Bounderby is soon dissolved and she never remarries.

Although Louisa is the novel’s principal female character, she is distinctive from the novel’s other women, particularly her foils, Sissy and Rachael. While these other two embody the Victorian ideal of femininity—sensitivity, compassion, and gentleness, whereas, Louisa’s education has prevented her from developing such traits. Instead, Louisa is silent, cold, and seemingly unfeeling.

Josiah Bounderby

Although he is Mr. Gradgrind’s best friend, Josiah Bounderby is more interested in money and power than in facts. Indeed, he is himself a fiction, or a fraud. Bounderby’s attitude represents the social changes created by industrialization and capitalism. Whereas birth or bloodline formerly determined the social hierarchy, in an industrialized, capitalist society, wealth determines who holds the most power. Thus, Bounderby takes great delight in the fact that Mrs. Sparsit, an aristocrat who has fallen on hard times, has become his servant. Dickens implies that Bounderby uses his wealth and power irresponsibly, contributing to the messed up relations between rich and poor.


Stephen Blackpool

Stephen lives a life of drudgery and poverty. In spite of the hardships of his daily toil, Stephen strives to maintain his honesty, integrity, faith, and compassion. Stephen is an important character not only because his poverty and virtue contrast with Bounderby’s wealth and self-interest, but also because he finds himself in the midst of a labor dispute that illustrates the strained relations between rich and poor. Stephen is the only Hand who refuses to join a workers’ union: he believes that striking is not the best way to improve relations between factory owners and employees.

Through Stephen, Dickens suggests that industrialization threatens to compromise both the employee’s and employer’s moral integrity, thereby creating a social disorder to which there is no easy solution.




With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, Sir Thomas Gradgrind is ever ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature. In point of fact Mr. Gradgrind is a man of realities, a man of facts and calculation, a man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not be talked into allowing for anything over. Moreover Mr. Gradgrind is found to mentally introduce himself, whether that is his private circle of acquaintance or to public in general.

Thomas Gradgrind, a wealthy retired merchant in the industrial city of Coke town, England, devotes his life to a philosophy of rationalism, self-interest, and fact. He raises his oldest children, Louisa and Tom, according to this philosophy and never allows them to engage in fanciful or imaginative pursuits. He founds a school and charitably takes in one of the students, the kindly and imaginative Sissy Jupe, after the disappearance of her father, a circus entertainer.

As the Gradgrind children grow older, Tom becomes a dissipated, self-interested hedonist, and Louisa struggles with deep inner confusion, feeling as though she is missing something important in her life. Eventually Louisa marries Gradgrind’s friend Josiah Bounderby, a wealthy factory owner and banker more than twice her age. Bounderby continually trumpets his role as a self-made man who was abandoned in the gutter by his mother as an infant. Tom is apprenticed at the Bounderby bank, and Sissy remains at the Gradgrind home to care for the younger children.

In the meantime, an impoverished “Hand”— Dickens’s term for the lowest laborers in Coketown’s factory—named Stephen Blackpool struggles with his love for Rachael, another poor factory worker. He is unable to marry her because he is already married to a horrible, drunken woman who disappears for months and even years at a time. Stephen visits Bounderby to ask about a divorce but learns that only the wealthy can obtain them. Outside Bounderby’s home, he meets Mrs. Pegler, a strange old woman with an inexplicable devotion to Bounderby.

James Harthouse, a wealthy young sophisticate from London, arrives in Coketown to begin a political career as a disciple of Gradgrind, who is now a Member of Parliament. He immediately takes an interest in Louisa and decides to try to seduce her. With the unspoken aid of Mrs. Sparsit, a former aristocrat who has fallen on hard times and now works for Bounderby, he sets about trying to corrupt Louisa.

The Hands, exhorted by a crooked union spokesman named Slackbridge, try to form a union. Only Stephen refuses to join because he feels that a union strike would only increase tensions between employers and employees. He is cast out by the other Hands and fired by Bounderby when he refuses to spy on them. Louisa, impressed with Stephen’s integrity, visits him before he leaves Coketown and helps him with some money. Tom accompanies her and tells Stephen that if he waits outside the bank for several consecutive nights, help will come to him. Stephen does so, but no help arrives. Eventually he packs up and leaves Coketown, hoping to find agricultural work in the country. Not long after that, the bank is robbed, and the lone suspect is Stephen, the vanished Hand who was seen loitering outside the bank for several nights just before disappearing from the city.

Mrs. Sparsit witnesses Harthouse declaring his love for Louisa, and Louisa agrees to meet him in Coketown later that night. However, Louisa instead flees to her father’s house, where she miserably confides to Gradgrind that her upbringing has left her married to a man she does not love, disconnected from her feelings, deeply unhappy, and possibly in love with Harthouse. She collapses to the floor, and Gradgrind, struck dumb with self-reproach, begins to realize the imperfections in his philosophy of rational self-interest.

Sissy, who loves Louisa deeply, visits Harthouse and convinces him to leave Coketown forever, Bounderby, furious that his wife has left him, redoubles his efforts to capture Stephen. When Stephen tries to return to clear his good name, he falls into a mining pit called Old Hell Shaft. Rachael and Louisa discover him, but he dies soon after an emotional farewell to Rachael. Gradgrind and Louisa realize that Tom is really responsible for robbing the bank, and they arrange to sneak him out of England with the help of the circus performers with whom Sissy spent her early childhood. They are nearly successful, but are stopped by Bitzer, a young man who went to Gradgrind’s school and who embodies all the qualities of the detached rationalism that Gradgrind once espoused, but who now sees its limits. Sleary, the lisping circus proprietor, arranges for Tom to slip out of Bitzer’s grasp, and the young robber escapes from England after all.

Mrs. Sparsit, anxious to help Bounderby find the robbers, drags Mrs. Pegler—a known associate of Stephen Blackpool—in to see Bounderby, thinking Mrs. Pegler is a potential witness. Bounderby recoils and it is revealed that Mrs. Pegler is really his loving mother, whom he has forbidden to visit him: Bounderby is not a self-made man after all. Angrily, Bounderby fires Mrs. Sparsit and sends her away to her hostile relatives. Five years later, he will die alone in the streets of Coketown.

Gradgrind gives up his philosophy of fact and devotes his political power to helping the poor. Tom realizes the error of his ways but dies without ever seeing his family again. While Sissy marries and has a large and loving family, Louisa never again marries and never has children. Nevertheless, Louisa is loved by Sissy’s family and learns at last how to feel sympathy for her fellow human beings.





Hard Times is concerned with industrial society, where  the workers in the factory are treated  as emotionless objects that are easily exploited for self-interest of the industrialists. It is an analysis and a condemnation of the ethos of industrialism. The novel focuses upon characters not as human types but as products of the industrial age. Hard Times is the reflection of nineteenth-century England’s overzealous adoption of industrialization threatens to turn human beings into machines by discomforting the development of their emotions and imaginations.


Hard Times is constructed on a series of contrasts, between facts and fancy, head and heart, age and youth, work and play. The story takes place in the phase of the industrial revolution, where Law & political economy controlled by the capitalistic, where man is just treated as production input and children are supposed to be database of facts and figures.

Hard Times has raised serious concerns over mechanization of work and education, mechanization of human beings, meaningless inequitable economic growth and unequal income distribution. It too has tried to focus on family values, role and importance of women’s in decision making, social justice.




Education/knowledge is the major power from the perspective of Human Dimension of Development; regardless “literacy rate statistics” will be none of use, unless and until we find out what quality education is and how it should be delivered.

Education is the center part of the “HARD TIMES”. Charles Dickens has directly and indirectly shown all the root causes of social problem in mechanization of education. From the perspective of Human Dimension of Development we find that knowledge is the power/energy of human development. But means and ends must be clear. In the Novel “Hard Times”, Dickens has shown that the industrialized society is unaware of ends of development and thus have misutilized the power of education.


“The Gradgrind school opposes fancy, imaginative literature and “wondering.” Instead, they encourage the pursuit of “hard fact” and statistics through scientific investigation and logical deduction. But the Gradgrinds are so merciless and thorough in their education that they manage to kill the souls of their pupils. Sissy Jupe and the members of Sleary’s circus company stand as a contrast, arguing that “the people must be amused.” Life cannot be exclusively devoted to labor.”

Dickens suggests that what constitutes so-called fact is a matter of perspective or opinion. Dickens have opposed on making children as database of facts and figures. Somewhere he has indirectly raised concern about quality of education, what education is meant for?  “Should output of Schools should act as production input of factories?? For what schools are constructed for and who are supposed to govern or influence them?

What I conclude is, today’s so called “education” and the “education system” is responsible for the root causes of social problems. Weather it is widening of gab between richer and poor,

 North – South, industrialization, environmental pollution, poverty and or social conflicts. Unless and until we learn to create a balance form of society, unless and until we are clear on ‘ends and means’ of development and the best procedures to metalize them, unless and until we learn to distinguish between subjective and non-subjective, materialistic and non-materialistic parts of society and human being, ‘HARD TIMES’ will ever flourish in 21st century of the modernized and globalized world.

“Mr. Gradgrind believes that human nature can be measured, quantified, and governed entirely by rational rules. Indeed, his school attempts to turn children into little machines that behave according to such rules.”

Similarly, the major problem with Human Development Index (HDI) is that it tries to measure everything as like Mr. Gradgrinds. Whereas, I believe that “freedom” and “Joy”, the ultimate common goal of human being cannot be measured. Regardless, if the measurement indexes are developed, human being should be ready to bear the consequences of it as people during industrial revaluation of 1850s faced the consequences of ‘mechanization of human being’.

Finally, ‘Caring’ should not be sold in market, it is not commodity neither it should have curves of supply and demand. It’s crazy to put economic value on caring. Caring is priceless and thus it should be moved into family model. Through the various female characters in the novel, Dickens suggests that feminine compassion is necessary to restore social harmony. Hence-forth, if we mistaken to trade ‘Caring’  in the market for long time, it would give birth to  gender violence and crime, putting women more prone to vulnerability for example as the Nepalese women’s in gulf countries are facing physical and mental suffering in consequences of providing ‘caring services’.



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