Hard Times Essay Essay

Hard Times Essay Essay.

How does Dickens show his dislike for the education system in Hard Times? What is the effect of this system on Louisa? Does she manage to resist her very utilitarian upbringing? In the novel Hard Times, set in ‘Coke Town’ written in 1854, Dickens explores his own ideas of the poverty-ridden, factory towns of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. The book is based on family and it also shows the detail of the social standards of the time, poverty, the difficulty of life and the tough education system.

Education at this time was difficult and hard to enjoy for those children who wanted to explore fantasy and surrealism; those with active or overactive imaginations. The reason was that the education system at this time was purely factual. The education that Louisa and her younger brother Thomas receive in this book is an education based on facts, this Charles Dickens seems to detest. I think Dickens may not have liked this type of education because it eliminated all sorts of fantasy and surrealism.

Being a fiction author, I think that he would find this annoying as he used his imagination to create his books. I think this may be one of his motives for writing the book. One of the main characters in the book itself, Thomas Gradgrind (Senior) states that the education of children should be ‘Facts, facts, facts,’ nothing more, nothing less than facts. His young daughter Louisa does not seem to be fond of this statement and does not like to hear her father say it. When she is at home she is given all sorts of instruments to use by her father.

She seems to dismiss the idea of using them, whereas her brother Thomas obeys by his fathers orders, showing no reluctancy, perhaps this is because he is a boy and his father would like him to succeed and become as successful as him, after all they share the same name. Fantasy books, creative writing and anything supernatural would not even be considered in the minds of the teachers. The pupils were taught about economic issues, the government and mathematical figures. They were also taught some politics. Their education was limited, and it did not allow their minds to stretch to the boundaries of fantasy and fiction.

Charles Dickens portrays this in the book well; we gain an (If quite limited) understanding of the poorer children’s view on education. But people in poverty hardly enter the book in terms of views on education. In Dickens view the children in the classroom are being prepared to be yet more workers in one of the many factories in Coke Town. Louisa is a child who seems to have a passion for surrealism and imagination, and would probably be found daydreaming at times. I think that this type of education would then be difficult for her, and even more difficult that her father was the main enforcer of the facts.

We realise that she has a passion for everything creative when she and her brother are caught peeping at the circus. She almost stands up to her father, but I think she is scared of his power so she decides against it. The education the children are receiving is not helping them to develop a creative mind with ambition for jobs in high up places. No, the education the children are receiving is based on facts and nothing but. This kind of education does not prepare them for the real world; it prepares them for a life of working in the drab factories of Coketown.

Dickens does not really encounter education for children in poverty in this book. Dickens’s view on the education system and schools is that they are where any trace of imagination and wonder are extracted from the children, and replaced by pure facts. This makes us ponder the question: did Charles Dickens believe that an education was to be void of all facts, or did he believe that fact mixed with fiction was the correct way to educate children? Dickens shows his opinions very clearly throughout the book.

The repetition of the word “facts” all throughout the book, the way it is said and how the facts are being ground deeper and deeper into the children’s minds, shows us his dislike to this system. Louisa is a victim of the education system. This is quite ironic, seeing as her father is the very man trying to enforce facts upon her and her classmates. Being an imaginative, creative child, interested in the circus, colour and arts she gets caught in the web of facts and struggles to escape. We see her frustration towards her father and society as a whole grow and develop throughout each part of the book.

Dickens makes the reader question Gradgrind’s method of teaching and education and lets the reader decide if it is right or wrong by the evidence Dickens gradually reveals during the course of the book. Charles Dickens creates a character whose teaching methods are quite different from the education system these days. Dickens has created a character, which is disliked by many, both in attitude and appearance. Gradgrind is described to be ‘square. ‘ ‘Square wall of a forehead’ Dickens has used this imagery so the reader perceives Gradgrind as a very dull and square character.

Dickens has described Gradgrind as a square man as it forces you to imagine a man with boundaries, and four straight walls with equal sides, nothing more nothing less. In this way he portrays Gradgrind as a formal man, which helps you with the impression that he is a man of facts. Each chapter is cleverly titled. They give us insight into Dickens view of the events taking place in that specific chapter. ‘Murdering the innocents’ is an example of Dickens putting his view into the titles. This is a clear indication that he thinks the planting of facts and the lack of imagination involved is not good and is not right.

He thinks this is essentially killing the children, who are innocent because they have thoughts which are pure, and these pure thoughts include imagination. The fact that this innocence is being taken away from them and they are turning into adolescents means that they are entering a world of dishonesty, fault and failure. Dickens also portrays the characters true traits through their names. ‘Mr. Gradgrind’ and ‘Mr. M’Choakumchild’ are both examples of this. We can tell by the naming of the characters that they are both strong and most likely intimidating or cruel.

“Gradgrind” implies the gradual grinding of facts into the children’s heads. Dickens uses these names as imagery. From ‘Mr. M’Choakumchild” we obviously imagine the choking of a child. This gives us the impression that he does not like children and that he chokes them of their imagination. It makes you believe that he would not permit them to have their own thoughts of creativity but stick to facts and facts alone. I think Dickens has done this to inform the reader early on that these characters are not in the right and to hopefully give us the same impression of this education system as him.

Certain pupils get treated differently to others in Coketown’s school. It appears that how well you are treated in the school depends on your social status. Sissy Jupe is involved with the circus; she is rather looked down upon by the teachers because of this. She is referred to as girl number 20, whereas someone from a better background may be called by his or her real name. Her relationship with Louisa later on in the story also tells a tale of its own about class and how people are treated. Bitzer is treated with respect within the education system because he is of higher class, although not much higher than that of Sissy Jupe.

He is quick to answer questions in class with straight facts, and this pleases the teachers. His knowledge of facts and the fact he is from a wealthier family determines his status and amount of respect he is given by teachers and students alike. Because of this division between the two characters we see them progress throughout the book watching how they both change and develop under the same system. Bitzer follows and abides by the rules of facts, with his pale visage and his eagerness to please.

He is a teacher’s pet and is eager to learn and get in their good books- not ashamed to suck up to get where he wants to be. He is a very eager boy, and his pale appearance and large eyes give him a strange owlish appearance. In contrast Louisa rebels is a small but healthy, normal looking child, rebelling against the rules, longing for freedom and wishing to use her imagination and explore fantasy. In conclusion I think that Dickens has written the book ‘Hard Times’ in such a way that the reader empathises and understands the hardship of an education based purely on facts.

He has written the book in such a way that you agree with his opinions on the system and you agree with his dislike of the education system. He makes you dislike the system, but not in an obvious way and he does it subtly throughout the book so that you agree with him all the way through. He uses subtle descriptions and techniques, which make the reader agree with his opinions. The way he uses chapter titles and characters names, the way Sissy and Louisa struggle through the system all add to your understanding of Dickens views.

From the beginning of the book till the end, Louisa shows signs of wanting to explore the unknown, fantasy and fiction, but because of the current education system and her father being at the head of it, Louisa struggles to do this. Louisa finds that she cannot suppress her imagination whilst maintaining the rules of the system, and as she grows up she finds it easier to stand up to her father. Throughout the book, Louisa does anything to please her brother because of the factor of male dominance: she will try and get him out of trouble and help him as much as she can.

In a way she almost sees him as an older brother, or someone to look out for, who may in turn look out for her. At the end, she finally becomes loose of the shackles and facts that are binding her and can express herself imaginatively and creatively. Thomas Gradgrind Louisa both have incredibly opposite opinions. They grow together throughout the book and although Gradgrind is the main enforcer of facts, his daughter Louisa opens his eyes to the fact that imagination, creativity and fantasy are to be embraced in the education system, and not abolished from the minds of the young.

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Hard Times Essay Essay

Hard Times and Utilitarianism Essay

Hard Times and Utilitarianism Essay.

“NOW, what I want is, Facts”, and so starts Charles Dickens novel Hard Times which first appeared as a serial publication in 1854. Dickens regularly took inspiration from the prevailing conditions as topics of his writings and proceeds to make social commentaries through his brand of creative fiction. Examples of these are Oliver Twist (Dickens, 1837) and Bleak House (Dickens, 1952). Hard Times was similarly inspired. The novel is mainly a critic of Utilitarianism, the dominant philosophy at the time the novel was written.

As Geoffrey Scarre (1996) stated in his book entitled Utilitarianism, “The eighteenth century was the green youth of utilitarianism, as the nineteenth was its prime” (p. 49). The term utilitarianism was first coined by Jeremy Bentham in 1781 (Bailey, 1997, p. 3). His ideas were much derided even then and at the House of Commons at that when Lord Brougham dismissing Bentham as, “’having dealt more with books than with men” (Mack, 1963, p. 2).

Yet, despite his seeming notoriety the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was passed which defined and classified the poor and outlined how should be handled.

“The Act was and is seen as more or less Benthamite” as concluded by Peter Stokes (2001) in his article entitled Bentham, Dickens and the Uses of the Workhouse (p. 711). It was against this Act that Dickens created Oliver Twist. Dickens’ continues his propaganda against such philosophy with Hard Times. While personifying the basic tenets of utilitarianism in his book, he is, on the other hand, equally condemning it in the same breath.

This is already evident as you read the second paragraph where he strips his purported hero of facts of any semblance of respect when he describes the character that is Thomas Gradgrind rather comically with his hair and head as “a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie” (Dickens, 2007, p. 10). This is a deliberate ploy to set an image in the reader’s mind which can effectively cloud anything the character will expound upon even if it may lean towards the rational and acceptable.

Dickens’ use of various figures of speech is also ironic as it runs contrary to the basic tenets his character is espousing. This form of mockery can be seen all throughout the novel up until the end when Gradgrind sees the lights and begins “making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity”(Dickens, 2007, p. 387). What is it about utilitarianism that Dickens’ seems to be vehemently opposed to? Several of its principles were taken up in the book. Dickens took a one-sided approach and presented it on an extreme scale and argued against it.

We will explore how these were countered by Dickens by using excerpts from the book. In Bentham’s (1996) An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation he declared that “An action then may be said to be conformable to the principle of utility . . . when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it” (p. 12-13). Simply, put, as long as the number of people who are happy is greater that those who are not happy, then all is well.

However, this main concept was methodically censured by Dickens by using examples that touched heavily on human interest which therefore, from the perspective of the humane, such reasoning would not be justified at all. A question on prosperity was posed to girl number twenty to which she replied: I thought I couldn’t know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, and whether I was in a thriving state or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it. (Dickens, 2007, p. 82)

With this illustration, it is maintained that the individual good should not be relegated to any mathematical computations. The point was further driven home with the next example. And he said, This schoolroom is an immense town, and in it there are a million of inhabitants, and only five-and-twenty are starved to death in the streets, in the course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion? And my remark was – for I couldn’t think of a better one – that I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the others were a million, or a million million.

And that was wrong, too. (Dickens, 2007, p. 82) It is thus contended that such principle cannot and should never be adapted in the formulation of policies and the establishment of institutions when it comes to people’s well-being as we are more than mere data and statistics. This, however, is not the case in Coketown. Coketown is the community where the all the main characters worked and dwelled, survived and tarried about. This was where the major events occurred.

Since it has already been established early on that following the tenets of fact can not lead to anything fanciful, it is not surprising that Coketown was depicted to be very spartan and has retained only “what was severely workful” (Dickens, 2007, p. 37). It is an industrial town that is generally void of lively entertainment and distractions if one can see through the smoke with the textile plant as the main source of income and employment for the “Hands”, a rather curt label to its workers as if there are no living and feeling beings attached to those appendages. Coketown, as John R.

Harrison (2000) described it in his essay, “represents the domination of an inhuman, utilitarian, industrial ethos” (p. 115). Yet, Coketown can be viewed as the reality of fact. It embodies the concrete representation of the theories of utilitarianism which further belies its effectivity on a community that lives to live and not just survive. Within the town, there is the school run by schoolmasters who share Gradgrind’s methods and beliefs. It can be gathered that they have great memorization skills and would most likely be able to rattle off any observable characteristics of any person, place or thing.

The teaching is so rigid that there is simply no place for any sort of creativity. There is just black and white. “Murdering the Innocents” indeed as the chapter is aptly called. That in itself plainly shows Dickens’ disapproval of such a stiff approach in education where minds are dictated to rather than molded. A further commentary on the misleadingly laudable wealth of knowledge was given, “If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more! ” (Dickens, 2007, p. 18).

Another argument against utilitarianism is its apparent support of inequality while still following the happiness principle of the greater good. Utilitarianism claims that a relevant reason for tolerating inequalities is a gain in efficiency; that is, we should be prepared to tolerate the fact that some persons’ lives go less well than others if some aggregate of personal good is greater. (Bailey, 1997, p. 10) This principle is personified in the book by Josiah Bounderby, owner of the textile mill, owner of the bank, owner of the loudest mouth in Coketown.

How he came about his wealth was not detailed in his narration of his rags-to-riches story. However, he is not one who attracts admiration and awe for his accomplishments. On the contrary, he is morally ruined by choosing only what he deems to be advantageous to him. He fully appreciates what he has with no regard to level off the disparity. Instead, he maintains and continues to attempt to raise his status even more by denigrating the lives of others. It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase.

Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter. And if we didn’t get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there. (Dickens, 2007, p. 375) Dickens demonstrates here that the greater good is subject to a lot of interpretations and it is normally self-serving in that the one who seems to be higher on the scale will never relinquish his power to those who had now been branded as the lesser good.

However, the tentacles of the stick-to-the-facts approach did not stop within the boundaries of the town. It must be noted that Gradgrind was being aided by a government official during his discourse with the students in the first chapter who more than willingly shared his beliefs and even went on to imply that these teachings must be applied at all times, at every opportunity and in every aspect of one’s life even at something as mundane as papering your walls or carpeting your floors.

Do not do anything that is contrary to reality. There is no form merely function. What is all the more alarming is that Gradgrind was later made a Member of Parliament, “one of the representatives of the multiplication table, one of the deaf honourable gentlemen, dumb honourable gentlemen. . . “ (Dickens, 2007, p. 127). Dickens makes it known that despite the fallacies and inhumane improbabilities of the radical teachings of utilitarianism, it can still muster followers and influence policies.

Therefore, Dickens continues with more events and inevitable results and consequences in his book to trample any other doubt remaining as regards unyielding adherence to facts. One thing that can be said about living things is that their behavior can never be predicted. Take, for example, the white tiger which mauled the magician Roy Horn in spite of it being with them for several years without any incident. More so with people whose thinking processes are more complex. One cannot take a general rule and expect that all will react and comply with it unvaryingly.

Current studies have now shown that “all aspects of personality are fundamentally unique and idiosyncratic to each individual” (Deary, 2003, p. 6). Despite lack of any scientific proof, Dickens’ had already concluded that even individuals who practically grew up living, studying, acting out a way of life are merely suppressing their true nature and would inevitably fight back one way or the other. With these, let us now take a look at Tom, the whelp and Louisa. Tom and Louisa first made their appearance in the book in Chapter III aptly entitled The Loophole.

The “eminently practical father” was basking in his conviction that his children were the models of factual upbringing when he came upon his two eldest children one peeping through a hole in the wall and other peeping through the crack underneath the wall. It could be imagined that time came to a stop with all three just looking at each other with incredulous expressions on their faces. It was bound to happen that children’s innate curiosity will get the better of them and explore realms outside their scope. The rule of thumb is when met with rules, immediately find ways to go around it; look for loophole.

There were already indications of deviations from the inflexible path provided them. The mere fact that Louisa has began to wonder even if she was chastised to “never wonder” (Dickens, 2007, p. 71). There is no room for sentimentality or “fancy”, if you will, and is simply not allowed for the logical reason that it is e not concrete. It is not based on the real. It has no parts that can be broken down and studied. It cannot be calculated. Utilitarianism hinders that aspect that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom and that is the ability to feel and think in abstracts.

Utilitarians, may contend however, that anatomically, it would be the opposable thumb that sets us apart. The gradual breakdown of the children who had such an upbringing took on different routes but both led to a destruction of their seemingly perfect lives. Tom gave much credence to his pseudo-freedom from the stifling rigidity of science and math and into the arms of vice. No productive outlet or substitute was provided for his suppressed emotions and was therefore easily addicted and resorted to get-rich quick schemes.

Louisa, on the other hand, had no choice but to give in to expectations of her and that is to get married which led to the further repression of her emotions. Questions on social issues can be gleaned from the discussion of marriage between Gradgrind and his daughter where Gradgrind, typical of a man and worse, a man blinded by facts and practicality could not read between the lines as he itemizes the pros and the cons of the proposal of marriage as if it is a mere business proposal and must be approached with much objectivity. What should take precedence when it comes to marriages?

Should it be for practical purposes or tests of compatibility? If neither is no longer present, should one cut ties altogether? Anyway, as Gradgrind continues to be practical, his daughter laments as she is about to enter into next phase of adulthood when she has yet to experience childhood. ‘Why, father,’ she pursued, ‘what a strange question to ask me! The baby-preference that even I have heard of as common among children, has never had its innocent resting-place in my breast. You have been so careful of me, that I never had a child’s heart.

You have trained me so well, that I never dreamed a child’s dream. You have dealt so wisely with me, father, from my cradle to this hour, that I never had a child’s belief or a child’s fear. ’ (Dickens, 2007, p. 138) And to this, “Mr. Gradgrind was quite moved by his success, and by this testimony to it“ (Dickens, 2007, p. 138) only to listen and break down and do some soul-searching himself when Louisa has finally allowed herself several years later to break free from her suppression and made her father understood the misery in her heart and the consequences it will ultimately bring.

Another hapless victim was Mrs. Gradgrind herself who was reduced to something quite insignificant as she had been unable to cope with the academic precepts. She was however given the chance to salvage what remained of her true self and only because she gave up trying to absorb the useless facts that cluttered and rattled in her mind. It also makes a resounding statement that the redeeming characters in the book were only partly or not at all exposed to the tenets prescribed by Gradgrind.

There was Sissy Jupe a. k. a. Cecilia to Gradgrind a. k. a. girl number twenty to her schoolmasters. She only joined the family later on and while she was not spared the rigors of fact bombardment, she was able to escape intact having had a solid upbringing in an atmosphere of discipline, fun and love. On impulse and on love, she was able to right the wrongs. She was able to persuade Harthouse, Louisa’s intended lover from leaving not through logic but by faith. She was able save Jane, Gradgrind’s younger daughter from the plight of Louisa by opening to her a childhood not before experienced in that household.

Then there was Rachael, a Hand in the textile mill who did not have any formal schooling. Yet, this did not belittle her in the reader’s eyes because she had enough compassion to carry the whole town. Then there were the circus people. They were the only community who consistently showed a semblance of emotion, of camaraderie, of caring. Even the dog, Merrylegs, manifested human attributes and possibly gained more sympathy than Bounderby who publicly embarrassed himself for lying about his own mother and denying his heritage.

All the proponents of utilitarianism met their downfall while those who showed humanity led fulfilling lives. Gradgrind himself has discovered that aside from the “wisdom of the Head. . . there is the wisdom of the Heart” (Dickens, 2007, p. 295) and Dickens was magnanimous enough to give his character a chance at true happiness. We end this paper with words from Sleary, circus owner and philosopher as he sums up how it is and how it should be when dealing with your fellow men and when dealing with life.

Hard Times and Utilitarianism Essay