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Hard Times by Charles Dickens


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Hard Times is not a well-known novel compared to some of Dickens’ other novels, and has been targeted as an example of propaganda. However, it really isn’t propaganda and has many worthwhile thoughts about society in it. Hard Times shows well of how the society of industry was like to the many, although it was able to show how society could be changed in the future. This essay shows the message behind Hard Times, and why it is not propaganda. Instead, I believe that Hard Times is one of the most accurate representations of labor that is forced, and the issues related with that.
In Hard Times, the events are very similar to that of any other muckraker’s protests, a society where the money all goes to the wealthy, who in turn, only finds to crush the poor. This time, however, Dickens has taken a very different role by using sarcasm to target not only unfairness, but society itself. In the story, every child was designated a number, and everything was put in an orderly fashion, as if nothing could be out of a system that is designed to resemble the modern production line. Interestingly, the modern world is molded after that system. For example, all of the students in Mr. Gradgrind’s class were numbered a number; from number 1-20, and they were called as if they were trains, or manufacturing units, by their number. Interestingly, social security works in a similar manner. Dickens was no-doubtingly trying to make an impression of the craziness of a system where society as a whole is based upon a systematic control not based on human principles.
Further speaking, there are more examples of this craziness, with the example of Mr. Gradgrind, and Sissy and Biltzer. Sissy is a more emotional person, and also more imaginative; traits like that at that time, were disliked. However, Biltzer is a more factual and liked by Mr. Gradgrind yet Biltzer is mean, and because of so, Mr. Gradgrind did not even punish Biltzer for being cruel to Sissy. Sissy’s father, a clown, is not respected by Mr. Gradgrind, but the author has somehow made the reader to respect Sissy’s father by his claim of him not willing to hurt a living creature. Mr. Gradgrind, therefore, is a sarcastic symbol of people at that time, who wants facts, and reality, and nothing else in a way that they do not care about emotions of any other characters, but only cares for the end product. For example, he tries to kill the imaginations of children early on, and let them know only the facts. He also dejects any thoughts not sold. He also dejects any thoughts not sold in the school.
It is also worth mentioning that Dickens have a very heavy disdain for worker’s unions. Stephen Blackpool’s energetic character, from his work would have been an excellent union leader man., for he is well respected. However, he refuses to even join a union. It is not coincidental that Dickens purposely built the story around that pitfall in order to let Stephen Blackpool be a positive character. Dickens, however, believes in a society where the bosses themselves should be more kind to workers, and realize that the normal working class citizens do have feelings. That opinion is very common in the educated class at that time and even today, it is a common perception. That is not to undermine that Dickens is a worker sympathizer, and while he did not portray the work condition as shockingly as did St. Clair, he did use sarcasm to portray hardships faced by the workers.
Hypocrisy is another thing that is boiled down in this book. Again, the author Charles Dickens takes another very sarcastic attack upon facts to show the need for imagination. Bounderby says that for those who want to have imagination, all they want is turtle soup. Further, Bounderby, the owner of the factory even comments that the smoke produced from the factories is the best for people’s lungs. Such fact is definitely something that the reader knows is not true. Even further, Bounderby himself is not even willing to live in such muck, and he himself even has a private retreat outside of town. One interesting conclusion from all this talk is why shall the author say so much of logic if he himself is so against facts?
Finally, this system of facts boils down to where even the supporters of this system find that they could no longer sustain any longer. A bank is robbed. The robber is not known. There is guesses for it to be Stephen Blackpool. Stephen Blackpool, a very hard worker decides to go into the country for a while, and gets murdered, showing the franticness of the society at that time. Also, later, it is found that it was actually Sissy’s father who took the money for social injustice. That part is a very interesting part of the story, as the author said that there are some things that are really important to the social structure. He claimed that Sissy is not doing anything wrong, in that manner.
All these events do conclude that Hard Times is not propaganda, but instead shows that Dickens did forecast society in a very accurate manner. Dickens was able to show the difficulties of the common man, and his book is one of the muckraking books that changed society into becoming more humane. Therefore, his book accurately portrayed society as it is, and did not propagandize it.
By demonstrating the lack of emotion, cruelty, and hypocrisy created by the industrial revolution, Dickens was able to improve worker’s conditions across the board.




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