Winston Churchill once said, “The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.” Hard Times by Charles Dickens epitomizes the quote above, in that, it highlights the miseries of the factory workers, which was the result of flourishing Capitalism in Industrial Great Britain. Capitalism, despite having numerous monetary benefits, also leaves behind a long trail of overproduction, pollution, overcrowding, meager wages, and the exploitation of helpless, and desperate workers. Dickens critiques the inequalities of class structure, and the large difference between the living standards of the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie in Hard Times, by providing a fictional and satirical overview of the life of an average middle-class family during the Industrial Revolution, while providing glimpses into the nuances of the upper classes in the form of Mr. Harthouse and Mrs. Sparsit. His primary goal in Hard Times is to illustrate the dangers of allowing humans to become like machines, suggesting that without compassion and imagination, life would be unbearable. The title of the novel, Hard Times illustrates in effect, the trying times of this age on the middle-class family of the Gradgrinds’. The mechanizing effects of industrialization are exacerbated by Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy of rational self-interest. Thomas Gradgrind Jr., with his addiction to gambling, resorts to a treacherous method to retrieve that money, by framing an innocent and honest factory worker or “Hand,” Stephen Blackpool, virtually the protagonist, who is quite easy to blame as he had recently been fired by Thomas’ brother-in-law, and boss, Josiah Bounderby from his factory. Thomas’ father, Thomas Gradgrind largely emphasized education, and reliance on Science and Science only, as illustrated by the line, “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else” (Dickens 9). His dreams, his curiosity, his fantasies, and his wish for a fantastic childhood were all suppressed by his strict and unwavering father. Mr. Gradgrind wanted his children to be clever, and well-educated, and yet that was what essentially led to their downfall, be it Louisa’s desire for Mr. Harthouse while she was still married to Mr. Bounderby, although she escaped the loveless marriage that she was in as Mr. Gradgrind realized the detriments of a “mechanized life,” or Thomas’ stealing money from Mr. Bounderby’s bank. Workers, referred to as “the Hands” in Hard Times, were compelled to work long hours for meager pay in crowded, loud, and dangerous factories, as depicted by the line, “Time went on in Coketown like its own machinery: so much material wrought up…so much money made” (Dickens 90). Since they lacked an education and job skills, these workers had limited options for improving their atrocious living and working conditions. Mr. Bounderby is portrayed as a despicable factory owner in the novel. He prides himself in having risen from an abandoned, neglected and orphaned childhood to becoming a wealthy factory owner, yet he possesses all the characteristics of a pompous and selfish factory owner. This can also be interpreted as Dickens trying to illuminate the fact that no matter what ranks one arose from, becoming a wealthy Capitalist brought about the worst in them, making them neglect their values, their traditions, and losing all their sympathy, as being on top made the class structure become all too apparent to them. One always wanted more and more and was willing to exploit as many people as necessary in order to make as much money as possible, without caring about the well being of the factory workers. Hard Times suggests that nineteenth-century England’s overzealous adoption of industrialization threatens to turn human beings into machines by thwarting the development of their emotions and imaginations. This suggestion is portrayed through the actions of Gradgrind and his friend, Bounderby, as the former educates and indoctrinates the young children of his family and his school strictly with facts in a pragmatic manner, and the latter treats the workers in his factory as emotionless objects that are easily exploited for his own advantage. The narrator draws a parallel between the factory Hands and the Gradgrind children, as they both lead monotonous, tedious lives, unimpressed by pleasure and devoid of imagination. Consequently, their fantasies and emotions dwindle, and they become almost mechanical themselves. This novel was written largely as a response to the Industrial Revolution, to highlight the pessimistic condition of the factory workers in a direct, satirical manner. It is a spot-on critique of Capitalism, and hence, some critics regard it as a form of socialist propaganda rather than literature. However, I do not agree with them, as I believe that although Dickens wanted to highlight the discrepancies of the class structure in order to effect social change, and perhaps even social reform, much like Edwin Chadwick, except that he did it through a work of fiction, and in my opinion, with a larger emotional investment in it, as he himself used to work in a factory, and therefore, knew and had experienced these effects firsthand, he was not advocating Socialism. Dickens may have written Hard Times as a work of fiction rather than a non-fictional work so that more people read it and were exposed to the realities of it. However, although it was fictitiously rendered, it is a very realistic portrayal of the existence of the unequal class structure, and the sad conditions of the Proletariat in Industrial Society. Dickens successfully highlighted how automated society had become, be it a factory mass producing goods or a school trying to mass produce children that had a great deal of information crammed into their heads, depicted when a gentleman teaching in Mr. Gradgrind’s school said, “‘Girl number twenty'” (Dickens 13), instead of referring to her by her actual name. The argument of George Bernard Shaw that Dickens deliberately wrote Hard Times to make his middle class readers feel “uncomfortable,” is very plausible, since, as previously mentioned, Dickens was trying to relate the adversities faced by the working class through his satirical work of fiction, as he wanted to expose the disparities of the class structure. He empathized with the working class, and wanted to write something that directly attacked those that he felt could bring about change, and those that were essentially responsible for the dire conditions of the working class, the Bourgeoisie. The exploitation and scapegoating of the workers is rendered by the line, “‘Sir, yo will clear me an’ mak my name good wi’ aw men. This I leave to yo'” (Dickens 263). The Victorian England of Dickens’ time was fraught with immense economic turmoil, as the Industrial Revolution upturned and challenged the established order. The distinction between the rich and poor, or the middle and working classes, grew even greater as factory owners exploited their employees in order to increase their own profits. For example, Mr. Bounderby believes that factory employees are lazy good-for-nothings, as illuminated when he stated to Stephen Blackpool, “‘Now, you have always been a steady Hand hitherto…you are turning into the wrong road'” (Dickens 78), and who expect to be fed “from a golden spoon.” The Hands, divergently, see themselves as hardworking and as unfairly overburdened by their employers. The novel uses the setting of the industrial smokestacks and factories of Coketown, England and its characters to expose the colossal gulf of disconnect between the nation’s rich and poor and to criticize what Dickens perceived as the indifferent and ignorant selfishness of the middle and upper classes, suggested when he states, “Oh my friends, the downtrodden operatives of Coketown…the slaves of an iron-handed and grinding despotism!” (Dickens 137). Hard Times proposes that nineteenth-century England itself is turning into a factory machine with the workers suffering from harrowing conditions and the middle class being concerned solely with making a profit in the most profitable and functional way possible. Dickens rehashes this point with vicious, often hilarious satire and sentimental melodrama, as he wanted all his readers to catch his point exactly, and the moral theme of the novel is very explicitly articulated time and again.

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