Since with the moral, psychological and social complications

Since it would
be difficult to analyse properly all the social and moral issues of
Dickens’  novels, this paper means to
highlight the tight relations between the Victorian age, the author himself and
the plot of ‘Hard Times’. In this novel Dickens deals with the moral,
psychological and social complications that originate from the establishment of
the utilitarian philosophy and of a new factory system damaging the quality of
life. All these themes are strictly connected to his own experience, not only
because he lived in the same years in which he set the facts of his novels, but
also due to the the fact that he experienced personally those difficulties. By
hiding his realism behind an imaginary story, Dickens strengthens his irony and
the gap existing between his ideals and the ones in vogue at the time.

 

In order to
make his accuses as evident as possible, Dickens develops the facts in
Coketown, an imaginary setting that perfectly responds to his criticizing
necessity. This speaking name, being Coke a type of coal, immediately suggests
the greyness the characters are surrounded by. Every house, building is
identical to the others; life rhytms too are always repetitive and distressing.
Everything is melancholically covered in smoke and ashes: “It was a town of red
brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed
it”. No space is left to personal characterization, so that everyone does the
same work and lives the same life. Since Dickens had experienced such
unbearable working and life conditions, it is natural that this factory system
installed by the Industrial Revolution becomes his first target.

 

Not only
working conditions are criticized by the author, but so he does against the
utilitarian philosophy. Building on from the fact that in Coketown only
survives what is strictly connected to work, the most corresponding conception
in morality is that of the utilitarian philosophy, which judged everything
according to his practical value. It doesn’t amaze that in such a town the
school is held by Mr Gradgrind , who teaches nothing but facts. Spontaneity and
imagination are suffocated by materialism and mere actuality. The most
outstanding example of these leanings is the scene where Sissy, who stands for
simplicity and emotion, is asked to define “horse”: since she’s unable to do
it, Bitzer, a classmate of hers, humiliates her publicly giving an utilitarian
and materialistic definition of the animal. The scene is highly symbolic and
silently shows that the author lines up with the first girl, suggesting his
dislike towards the teaching method brought in by the spread of the new
philosophy.

Speaking of the
author, both the first and the second social issues are pumped up in order to
make his disapproval as evident as possible. His ideals are completely
different from the conditions he is obliged to face. He believes in the need of
imagination as a way of escaping reality and is convinced of the power of
literature and poetry, rather than exalting the scientific subjects taught at
that time. Nevertheless, his charges are just verifications of some situations
that he goes against, but never end in a concrete project to change those
conditions; neither they could, because the targets of his accusals aren’t
sudden facts or punctual actions, but long-lasting modifications destined to
survive in years.

 

To conclude,
the motives behind “Hard Times” are much clearer if related to the amount of
problems the Victorian society had to deal with. There couldn’t have been a
better way to express a personal disapproval than the one chosen by Dickens:
the expedient of the fictitious plot actually offers the author total freedom
of topics. This trick, together with his masterful humour and his incredible
ability in hiding satire behind realistic facts, makes his novel greatly
effective and lets him express his divergent opinions in order to teach the
readers what to pursue and what to oppose, while facing the social issues of
the era.

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