Critical Essay On Hard Times

Dedicated to social critic Thomas Carlyle, Hard Times represents Charles Dickens’s first work of overt social criticism and reflects his contempt for utilitarian ideals of progress that valued that which produced the “greatest good for the greatest number.” Coketown, the setting for Hard Times, is a mill city that represents the worst aspects of what the Industrial Revolution was doing to British people in the nineteenth century. In Hard Times, it is this revolution that Dickens blames for England’s moral, legal, spiritual, and intellectual decay.

While all of the characters in this novel are flawed or damaged because of the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, Dickens holds Josiah Bounderby in the greatest contempt. In him, Dickens embodies the worst characteristics of the middle class: self-absorption, arrogance, and a lack of compassion for others in need of help. A self-made man, Bounderby demeans his family, claiming to have escaped an abusive childhood through his wits alone. While it makes for a heartrending story, Dickens eventually exposes Bounderby as a fraud. Rather than having been abandoned as a child, Bounderby actually grew up in a loving, comfortable home. The reason he presents his family as villains is that, in Bounderby’s eyes, they are not successful people because they do not prize self-reliance above all else, even love. In fact, Bounderby seems to think that love is just another acquisition, something he can have if he has the money to buy it. This is his attitude as he pursues Louisa Gradgrind to be his wife.

The Gradgrind children—Louisa, her younger brother, Tom, and their siblings—are raised and educated by a father who prizes the utilitarian values of reason at the expense of the imagination, a system that encourages the fostering of intellect but not the nurturing of the human heart. By some standards, it could be argued that Mr. Gradgrind has provided well for his family; however, when it comes to love, compassion, and supportive understanding—those things that Dickens sees as essential—the Gradgrind family appears much less blessed than either the mill workers or the economically disadvantaged—but loving—group of circus people, who provide Sissy Jupe with her extended family.

Throughout Louisa’s troubles with her husband and during her infatuation with James Harthouse, it is Sissy, not her father or brother, who recognizes the depth of Louisa’s unhappiness. Dickens clearly reviles a system such as the one practiced in Mr. Gradgrind’s home and private school, a system that inculcates only hard facts at the expense of compassion and imagination. Despite Louisa’s rearing and education, Dickens makes it clear that Louisa feels things deeply and needs someone to love, not only because she is attracted to the spoiled, idle dilettante James but also because she cannot contain her hungry imagination during her quiet musings before the fire. Sadly, Louisa can no more tell her father, her husband, or Sissy what is troubling her, for Louisa really does not have the language to give a name to her need for tenderness, playfulness, and companionship—none of which is extolled in her father’s school or exemplified in the behavior of her parents to each other or toward their children.

Dickens begins his story of Coketown with a scene depicting the visit of a government inspector to Mr. Gradgrind’s school to make sure that these children are learning “facts” and not being overburdened with useless activities that involve their imaginations. When Sissy Jupe, a child from the local circus, defines a horse in an imaginative way, Mr. Gradgrind rebukes her. In this simple scene, Dickens sets the stage for the key issue he explores in this novel: the price that is paid when reason is sought at the expense of emotion. Even more so than Mr. Gradgrind, Mr. Bounderby is a strong proponent of the importance of reason over emotion, and he offers himself as an example to his apprentice, young Tom Gradgrind. Unfortunately, Tom has neither the necessary imagination nor the integrity derived from seeing one’s connection and obligation to the community at large to withstand the temptation to gain easy wealth by stealing from his employer’s safe.

However, it is not Tom whom Bounderby and others blame for the theft, but Stephen Blackpool, an honest but poor mill hand. This aspect of Hard Times is Dickens’s way of condemning the social inequalities of the capitalist system, such as the ones that Coketown, Bounderby’s bank, Gradgrind’s school, and the mill represent. Dickens makes it clear that he believes that facts alone will not enable Bounderby or the other town officials to get beyond their class prejudices and identify the real thief: Tom.

Hard Times offers ironic commentary at every turn, as, for example, in the deep regard for each other shared by Stephen and another mill hand, Rachel. When Stephen momentarily has a chance to free himself from the burden of his half-mad, estranged, alcoholic wife by overdosing her on some medication, it is Rachel who unselfishly stays his hand, even though doing so prevents the two of them from marrying. In brutal contrast stands the wealthy, selfish James, whose very name is loaded with irony. When he grows attracted to the now married Louisa, James thinks nothing of pursuing her, nor does he mind losing her after his plot is discovered. For him, unlike Stephen and Rachel, “love” is only a game, one of the many in a world that concerns itself only with material possessions and wealth.

The book’s conclusion is bitter. All of the principal characters are broken, isolated within themselves, or dead. Mr. Gradgrind is chastened to realize that he and his theories of family and education have brought about not only his daughter’s breakdown and ruined marriage but also, indirectly, his son’s disgrace, deportation, and later death. In contrast, Mr. Bounderby—the model businessman—has learned nothing, unaffected by his wife’s desertion. Mr. Gradgrind’s knowledge is dearly bought, for, although he has come to see the importance of love, his prior insistence on “fact” cost him his son and the respect of his peers. Worse, however, is that he must live with the knowledge that his wrongheadedness has denied Louisa a loving husband and children.

ard Times is in many ways a classic example of a dystopia. Northrop Frye makes the point that Menippean satires such as Gulliver's Travels, Candide, and Brave New World are often peopled by parvenus, crackpots, virtuosi and the like (Frye 309). Certainly Hard Times has more than its share of virtuosi, theorists so caught up in the abstract rightness of their schemes that they lose sight of the intractability of the human being when it comes time to fit them into the equation. Indeed, one thinks of Sir Philip Sidney's anecdote in Defense of Poesie of the theoretical astronomer so lost in contemplation of the sky that he falls into a ditch. Gradgrind, whose study is lined with parliamentary blue books, and kept from silence by the tick tock of the deadly statistical clock, is likened to an astronomer locked in an observatory with fine instruments but no windows. M'Choakumchild relentlessly cites statistics of gross national product, or actuarial reports of trifling numbers of souls lost at sea, all the while oblivious to the human factor until Sissy Jupe questions the prosperity of the nation whose distribution is disproportionate and whose families are not a whit the less bereaved even though their lost loved ones represent a mere fraction of bodies lost at sea compared to the numbers lost in less advanced eras.

Hard Times fulfills most other criteria of dystopias: first, Coketown is indeed no place, critics variously identifying it with Manchester, Preston, Oldham, Blackburn and Rochedale. Not only is Coketown a no-place, it is clearly a bad place. Structurally it is based on a clear balancing of opposites: good versus evil; vital versus mechanical, sane versus insane. Like More's Utopia, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and Voltaire's L'Ingénu, and, indeed, most works of utopian satire, Hard Times is distinctly Janus faced. It at once looks unflinchingly at aberrant aspects of the society in question, but it also either implicitly or explicitly holds up the mirror to a better society elsewhere (Hythloday's deistic utopia, a just society as distinct from the unjust, enclosed England under Henry VIII; Swift's enlightened and peaceable kingdom of Brobdingnag as opposed to corrupt Lilliput; Voltaire's state of nature amongst the Hurons contrasted with the jaded court society.)

Pitted against the promised land of utilitarian theorists and their strange bedfellows the evangelicals, stands Sissy Jupe and the horse-riding group whose free-spirited, vital, and imaginative way of living is symbolized by their domicile at the Pegasus Arms. Rather than present a specific political-social remedy to the dystopia of Coketown, Dickens contents himself with portraying human behaviour which, if followed, would result in a kind of utopia, because it would usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth. Dickens concretely describes the dystopia of Coketown: utopia is only imagined as the kind of world attainable should all aspire to the ideal behaviour of Sissy.

From the outset, Dickens signals his structural principle: the conflict of opposites. Juliet McMaster in Dickens the Designer draws our attention to one of Dickens' many working titles: Black and White (177). Although the thesis antithesis structure is clear, surprisingly, critics have been satisfied with merely citing the biblical source of the initial chapter titles of books I and III and failing to discuss at length what is arguably the major allusion in the novel, one which sets up the main image, character, and thematic contrasts. I refer to the "The One Thing Needful" and "Another Thing Needful". Clearly, Dickens is alluding to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, specifically to Christ's words to the digruntled Martha , who rebukes her sister Mary for not helping her with the domestic chores, choosing instead to sit at the feet of Christ: "And Jesus answered and said unto her Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10: 41 42). Most biblical exegetes interpret this passage as an exhortation to serve the kingdom of God first; the world, last. Like the novel itself, this passage succinctly makes the point that if one is to attain to the kingdom of God on earth-the quintessential utopia-then one must put love before practical, utilitarian interests.

Not only does Luke 10 announce the main theme of Hard Times, it also provides much else. For example, the harvest imagery embodied in the titles of the novel's three books: "Sowing", "Harvesting", "Garnering" are doubtless embellishments of Luke 10:2 3, the passage describing Christ's sending of the seventy to spread the word of God:

Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.

Dickens sends Sissy out among the wolves, into the inferno of Coketown, a nineteenth-century equivalent of the unrepentant cities mentioned in Luke 10: Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and lastly, Capernaum, a city which is exalted to heaven, but which will be cast down to hell (Luke 10:15). Sissy, like the seventy sent, must stay in the first house she enters. Moreover, like her gospel counterparts, Sissy is exhorted to heal the sick there. And this she does: most obviously Louisa's sister Jane owes her transformed vitality to the care of Sissy. The healing imagery culminates in the last chapter of Book 2 and the first chapter of Book 3. Louisa lies an insensible at Gradgrind's feet in the chapter immediately preceding Book 3, Chapter 1, "Another Thing Needful". Awakening in the sick room which sister Jane tells her Sissy has taken Louisa to and which Sissy has prepared, Louisa is evidently sick: "She could scarcely move her head for pain and heaviness" (HT 164). But the greater sickness is mental. She still harbours a dull resentment towards Sissy, whose charity towards her she takes pridefully as a rebuke. When Sissy comes to her sickbed, Louisa did not raise her head. A dull anger that she should be seen in her distress, and that the involuntary look she had so long resented should come to this fulfilment, smouldered within her like an unwholesome fire. All closely imprisoned forces rend and destroy. The air that would be helpful to the earth, the water that would enrich it, the heat that would ripen it, tear it when caged up. So in her bosom even now; the strongest qualities she possessed, long turned upon themselves, became a heap of obduracy, that rose against a friend (HT 166-67).

Undeniably sentimental though the passage is, Sissy's angelic ministrations to the patient have their desired effect. Sissy's sympathetic hand on Louisa's neck warm "into life a crowd of gentler thoughts; and Louisa rested." Sissy is the catalyst which purges the pride which prevents Louisa from loving:

In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other. Louisa raised the hand that it might clasp her neck, and join its fellow there. She fell upon her knees, and clinging to this stroller's child looked up at her almost with veneration. "Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!" "0 lay it here!" cried Sissy. "Lay it here, my dear." [168]

Thus Sissy can been seen, to use a biblical term used by dystopian theorist Chad Walsh, as a saving remnant (85). She embodies Christian charity, a virtue that Dickens sets forth as the positive antidote to dystopian tendencies in the novel.

In an essay on Hard Times, Northrop Frye states,

It is clear that Hard Times . . . comes nearest to . . . dystopia, the book, which like Brave New World and 1984 shows us the nightmare world that results from certain perverse tendencies inherent in society getting free play. The worst effects of dystopia are likely ...certain features in his society that most directly threaten his own social function as a writer. The cult of facts and statistics is a threat unfettered imagination. [Frye, Humors 82, 83]

Certainly, one of the perverse tendencies Frye refers to in the dystopia of Coketown is the unremittingly utilitarian focus on political economy deftly skewered in the narrator's matter of fact announcement that Gradgrind was endeavouring to prove that the Good Samaritan was a bad political economist, another allusion, by the way, to Luke 10, or that Bitzer's mean-spirited gift of half a pound of tea annually to his mother in the workhouse was

"weak in him: first because all gifts have an inevitable tendency to pauperize the recipient, and secondly, because his only reasonable transaction in that commodity would have been to buy it for as little as he could possibly give, and sell it for as much as he could possibly get; it having been clearly ascertained by philosophers that in this is comprised the whole duty of man. . . . [HT 89]

Here Dickens uses bathos to enhance the satiric effect, for the myriad virtues outlined in the book once found as a companion piece to the Bible in most English homes, The Whole Duty of Man, have now been reduced to an ironic admonition to buy cheap and sell dear. In the manner of later Social Darwinists, the Virtuosi of the Utilitarian school elevated their theories to laws of nature and justified, for example the perpetuation of merely subsistence wages to the labouring classes by quoting from David Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), which argued that the natural price of labour was only as much as to enable the labourer to survive and perpetuate his race without increase or diminution. This idea that wages cannot rise above the lowest level necessary for subsistence had behind it Malthus' idea that poverty is inevitable because population increases by geometrical ratio, whereas the means of subsistence only increased by arithmetic ratio (Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798).

But the hardness against which Dickens pits the life-sustaining Sissy is perhaps best indicated by referring to the man most closely associated with utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham (1748-1831), an inveterate scientific problem solver; in short a utopian projector. If it is true that most utopias carry within them their own dystopian side, what Anthony Stephens call their shadow ("The Sun State and its Shadow"), then Bentham the utopian theorist was his own severest critic, albeit unwittingly. His conviction that poverty was inevitable and irremediable might have been unexceptionable to Dickens; however, his inept jocularity regarding human misery must have been what Dickens took exception to. For after all, at what point does a disinterested, scientific attitude merge into callousness? His definition of paupers as "that portion of the natural livestock which has neither fur nor feathers and walks on two legs" (Poynter 59) must have struck Dickens as--to quote Swift — "a little verging on cruelty"; particularly as Bentham's central point about the Poor Laws was that charity would multiply the evil it sought to relieve. According to one vehement critic of Bentham, C. F. Bahmueller, Bentham's Poor Law reform was replete with a repressiveness so pervasive, so soul-destroying, and with so little regard for either the civil liberties or the emotional sensitivities of those whose health (moral as well as physical) and happiness it set out to promote and protect, that its administrative progressiveness pales in the comparison (2). Moreover, Bentham's terse self confidence is reminiscent of Gradgrind calculating in the deadly statistical study:

Problem-Required, to delineate that plan of pauper Economy which shall reduce the expense to a minimum-at the same time raising up the condition of the Pauper community to its maximum in point of comfort and morality — and point of present and future welfare-producing at the same time the several collateral advantages desirable for the same system to the community at large. I flatter myself now demonstrated-the problem solved. [Bentham in Poynter 49]

Although the utilitarian theories with their deterministic and anti-libertarian tendencies come in for the lion's share of Dickensian animus, the Evangelicals seem, paradoxically, equally callous regarding the poor. Their emphasis on salvation by faith alone tended to denigrate the efficacy of good works. Moreover, their insistence on the utter depravity of man in the state of nature might have made of human misery an acceptable and merited condition.

The Influence of the Dystopian Satire of Hard Times on Aldous Huxley and H. G. Wells

hat Hard Times is a dystopia is clear; that it is a source for Brave New World is not yet evident. First, Huxley knew Dickens very well, referring frequently to his canon. The name "Podsnap," while not found in Hard Times, is, of course, from the later Our Mutual Friend, and has been defined as wilfull blindness to unpleasant facts. Podsnap " . . .had a happy method of getting rid of all disagreeable ideas with a convenient, "I don't want to know about it; I don't choose to discuss it; I don't admit it!" (174). Such Podsnapian evasiveness is wholly consistent with the Brave New Worldian evasive optimism which insists that life be led as it were from within the womb or to quote Orwell, "from inside the whale" and it is, I think, this evasiveness to which Huxley refers by his alluding to the "Podsnap technique" in Brave New World though its plot function was that of speeding up the maturation process. Huxley probably refers indirectly to Dickens' description of Podsnap's "flourish of his right arm..."sweeping" behind him the problems of the world (OMF 174), when he describes world controller Mond's "waving his hand as though with an invisible feather whisk" and thereby, as it were, ridding the world of unpleasant historical ideas such as Job, cathedrals, the thoughts of Pascal, and Symphony (BNW 26,27). In terms of plot, Huxley clearly draws upon Hard Times. Both novels begin with three satiric chapters on utopian education, and it is hard not to think of Huxley harking back to Gradgrind's schoolroom as he composed his own first chapter. As in Dickens, the dominant utopian philosophy of education comes to the fore: The Director of the Hatchery for Central London always made a point of personally conducting his new students round the various departments.

"Just to give you a general idea, he would explain, .... For of course some sort of general idea they must have if they were to do their work intelligently--though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible. For particulars, as everyone knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers but fretsawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society". [2]

Here, as in Hard Times, the narrator appears to espouse the utilitarian cause of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. As in Gradgrind's schoolroom, facts are what is wanted: not curiosity, not a sense of wonder.

As well, it is difficult to imagine Huxley's Henry Foster, had not Bitzer been created. Both figures are consummate organization men; both are unquestioning servitors of their respective utopian systems. In Hard Times, Bitzer offers the desired utilitarian, functional definition of horse, thereby correcting the sentimental, emotional definition offered by Sissy Jupe-or rather, girl number twenty:

Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more), Bitzer. [9]

Bitzer's prodigious memory for statistics and other facts is matched only by Henry Foster, who also happens to be present at the educational indoctrination of incoming students at the central hatchery and conditioning centre. Like Bitzer, he is often called in to demonstrate the politically-correct attitude or illustrative statistic:

'Mr. Foster ....Can you tell us the record for a single ovary..?" "Sixteen thousand and twelve in this Centre," Mr. Foster replied without hesitation. He spoke very quickly .... and took an evident pleasure is quoting figures. Sixteen thousand and twelve; in one hundred and eighty-nine batches of identicals ....Singapore has often produced over sixteen thousand five hundred; and Mombasa has actually touched the seventeen thousand mark. ....still, we mean to beat them if we can. I'm working on a wonderful Delta minus ovary at this moment. Only just eighteen months old. Over twelve thousand seven hundred children already, either decanted or in embryo. We'll beat them yet. [5, 6]

Perhaps the most interesting parallel between the two is in their blindness to moral imperatives which might be seen to be inconsistent with the utilitarian systems both uphold. In Bitzer's case, Chapter 8 "Philosophical" of Book Three is most illustrative. After having stalked and finally captured Tom the whelp, Gradgrind's wayward son, Bitzer refuses to let human charity interfere with strict adherence to the letter of the law, and in response to Gradgrind' s hope that Bitzer might be softened in his resolve to bring Tom to justice through a sense of gratitude to his old educational benefactor, Bitzer reveals his inability to go beyond the utilitarian catechism:

I really wonder, sir, rejoined the old pupil in an argumentative manner, to find you taking a position so untenable. My schooling was paid for; it was a bargain; and when I came away, the bargain ended. 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. [212]

Thus Bitzer reveals his total immersion in the belief that the cash-nexus governs all human intercourse, a captivity made all the more telling when in response to Gradgrind's desperate plea "Have you a heart?" in the following manner: "The circulation, sir, couldn't be carried on without one: "No man, sir, acquainted with...Harvey...can doubt that I have a heart." [303]

In parallel fashion, Henry Foster reveals a chillingly doctrinaire adherence in the extreme to the utilitarianism of his conditioning: not only does he betray no scruples in permitting the deliberate oxygen deprivation of an epsilon embryo destined to a life of menial toil, but he would not hesitate to turn the epsilon embryo into an eyeless monster. The only thing preventing his doing so was that, at present, no use had been found for eyeless monsters:

The lower the caste,...the shorter the oxygen. The first organ affected was the brain. After that, the skeleton. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less than seventy eyeless monsters. 'Who are no use [emphasis mine] at all,' concluded Mr. Foster. [10]

Neither Bitzer nor Foster would be out of place in that other utopia gone mad, Nazi Germany, whose extermination camps might easily have employed Jeremy Bentham's utopian innovation of the Panopticon, which was after all conceived as the heart of nineteenth-century classrooms, poorhouses, factories, or prisons.

Besides parallels in theme and characterization, one notes also the imagistic and stylistic similarities. For example, the colour white is used in both novels to suggest the sterility of both dystopian systems. Bitzer is depicted as a sickly-looking albino:

. . . the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the ...[sun]rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast. with something paler than themselves, expressed their form ....His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white. [9]

This pallor contrasts with the rich darkness associated with Sissy Jupe, the vital principle in the novel, and the representative of Dickens's utopian virtue of charity, which, if followed, would lead to the utopia prophesied in the Bible: the kingdom of Heaven.

The first image in Huxley's novel is that of deathly white, ironically the dominant colour of the Fertilizing Room:

The enormous room... faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical. heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows... finding only the glass and nickel. and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. [1]

Probably the most telling image pattern common to both novels, however, is the geometrical one. The tone is set early in Hard Times, Dickens masterfully conflating geometrical and Biblical imagery in one passage, thereby heightening the satiric effect: "the square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer ..."(9). Not only does the square Finger point to students sitting on an inclined plane and consequently reinforce the Euclidean imagery set up in the first chapter, it also echoes the prophetic book of Daniel in the Old Testament in the first and last chapters of the novel respectively; Gradgrind's square moving finger is figuratively linked to the Writing on the Wall of Daniel. The narrator warns that if the human faculty of fancy is not given its due, "the heart of infancy will wither up, the sturdiest physical manhood will be morally stark death, and the plainest national prosperity figures can show, will be the Writing on the Wall" (313). Indeed from the five mentions of the word "square" on page one, through the under-scored lines emphasizing Gradgrind's points, to the explicit references to Euclid and Cocker (a seventeenth-century mathematician and author of a geometry text commonly used even in Dickens's day), it is clear that the straight line and associated geometrical images form one pole-the dystopian pole-in the novel. They are opposed by imagery of nature, especially of flowers and horses (symbol of imagination.) So, too, does Huxley use the geometrically straight line as the imagistic counterpart of the logical, yet ruthlessly unyielding Euclidean spirit of utopian theory most graphically set out in the latter part of chapter 6 in Brave New World:

Ten minutes later [Bernard, Lenina, and guide] were crossing the frontier that separated civilization from savagery. Uphill and down, across the deserts of canyons, over crag and pear and table-topped mesa, the fence marched on and on, irresistibly the straight line, the geometrical symbol of triumphant human purpose. And at its foot, here and there, a mosaic of white bones, a still unrotted carcase dark on the tawny ground marked the place where deer or steer, puma or porcupine or coyote... had come too close to the destroying wires. 'They never learn,' said the green-uniformed pilot, pointing down at the skeletons on the ground below them .... and laughed, as though he had somehow scored a personal triumph over the electrocuted animals. [86-87]

Evidently, both Dickens and Huxley join in the critical tradition which suggests that a respect for nature and utopian theory rarely meet. In both novels, flower images are contrasted with mechanistic ones, thereby heightening the conflict between rationalism and humanism. Flowers come in for a figurative trampling in the second chapter of both novels. Gradgrind ridicules Sissy Jupe for wishing to carpet a room with representations of flowers. He implores her not to fancy walking on representations of flowers. Instead fancy must yield to fact, and like one of Swift's mad theorists in Laputa of Gulliver's Travels, he adumbrates the new, utopian concept of taste:

We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must. discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not. to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don't walk: upon flowers in fact; you cannot. be allowed to walk: upon flowers in carpets. You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use... for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste. [11]

Motivated by the same first principles as the geometers of Laputa, whose very dishes had to be presented as rhomboids, triangles, and the like, Gradgrind now legislates the newly discovered but eternal laws of taste for the new utopian dispensation. In Huxley's second chapter, flowers, or rather, representations of them, are part of a Pavlovian operant conditioning lesson which will unfailingly instill an aversion for the real thing in the future Delta workers now in the infant nurseries. Bawls the Director, "they'll be safe from... botany all their lives" (16) . Never will these future cogs in the industrial process be rendered unproductive because of a moment of fancy.

Another telling parallel is the architectural imagery that, though not. restricted to these two dystopias (one also finds it in Voltaire's L'Ingénu and in C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength) links the rationalized system with the Genesis archetype of Babel. The first image in Brave New World is that of the "squat grey building of only thirty four stories" (1). Likewise, Dickens refers to the chimneys of Coketown as "competing Towers of Babel" (62). By using such an image both authors are criticizing the Nimrod-like pride in human self-sufficiency and pride in science and technology, the attitude of Francis Bacon's New Atlantean in Salomon's house, who speaks of the object of their institution as being "the knowledge of Causes and secret motions of things, and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible" (447). And Gradgrind's very residence, Stone Lodge, is described in utopian terms:

A very regular feature on the face of the country, Stone Lodge was. Not the least disguise toned down or shaded off that uncompromising fact in the landscape. A great square house, with a heavy portico darkening the principal windows, as its master's heavy brows overshadowed his eyes. A calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house. Six windows on this side of the door, six on that side; a total of twelve in this wing, a total of twelve in the other wing: four and twenty carried over to the back wings. A lawn and garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account-book. Gas and ventilation, drainage and water-service, all of the primest quality. Iron clamps and girders, fireproof from top to bottom; mechanical lifts for the housemaids...everything that heart could desire. [13]

Whether Huxley took the most chilling and most anti-utopian image from Hard Times, or whether he got it from Wells's First Men in the Moon is difficult to say; nevertheless, Dickens' brilliant use of metonomy to suggest the utter dehumanisation of the working classes points the way for future critics of utopias. Rarely does Dickens refer to them as the workers, always it is the "Hands":

a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs .... A special contrast, as every man was in the forest of looms where Stephen worked, to the crashing, smashing, tearing piece of mechanism at which he laboured .... So many hundred Hands to this Mill; so many hundred horse Steam Power. [52, 56]

Although Shakespeare does something similar in his myth of the stomach in Coriolanus, Dickens is the first to imply that the machine of utopia might eventually prefer such a reductivist role for the human worker within the dictates of the division of labour, so hideously portrayed in Wells's First Men in the Moon. [1901]

Before considering Wells, we should note that Huxley almost certainly would have remembered Dickens's fanciful 'moulding' of the workers to fit their economic role in society, and although Huxley no doubt takes his cue from Henry Ford's description of his 'waist high' staffers on the Dearborn assembly line, the "hands" passage is probably Huxley's chief source for the description in chapter 11 of the Fordian electric headlights factory, where human beings are deliberate moulded and deformed to save floor-space as well as time in a satire on Taylorism gone mad: Bernard and John are shown around a Taylorised factory by the Human Element Manager, where each process is carried out by a single work: squad, or Bokanovsky detail:

Eighty-three almost noseless black brachycephalic Deltas were cold-pressing. The fifty-six four-spindle chucking and turning machines were being manipulated by fifty-six aquiline and ginger Gammas. One hundred and seven heat-conditioned Epsilon Senegalese were working in the foundry. Thirty-three Delta females, long-headed, sandy, with narrow pelvises, and all within 20 millimetres of 1 metre 69 centimetres tall, were cutting screws. In the assembling room, the dynamos were being put together by two sets of Gamma Plus dwarfs The two low work-tables faced one another; between them crawled the conveyor with its load of separate parts; forty-seven blond heads were confronted by forty-seven brown ones. Forty-seven snubs by forty-seven hooks; forty-seven receding by forty-seven prognathous chins. . . . [130]

We know Huxley read First Men in the Moon, perhaps the most Swiftian of Wells's works, especially in its emulation of Swift's ironic tone during Cavor's confrontation with the Grand Lunar, which occupies only three chapters at the end of the novel. Yet Huxley must have had these chapters in mind when he came to write Brave New World, for Wells no doubt took Dickens's "hands" satire further, and Huxley used this elaborate meditation on the ultimate result of the specialization of the species. Although Huxley knew and admired Maeterlink's works on insects, it is likely that Wells's sustained description of an allegorized ant like society inside the moon provided Huxley with the germ for his own pervasive satiric use of insect imagery in Brave New World to underscore the essentially anti human tendency of utopian social thought. Huxley uses Wells's idea of the world state as giant ant heap under the cold suzerainty of the rational principle embodied by a world controller. The Grand Lunar is a giant cerebral cortex whose communication with the earthly scientist Cavor closely resembles Gulliver's conversation with the King of Brobdingnag, especially insofar as a horror of the violent predilections of homo sapiens emerges from both. It should be noted that Huxley's world controller also evinces horror at human kind's capacity for violence. Like the Grand Lunar, Mond is one of the few inhabitants of utopia with access to historical information, and as the Grand Lunar has Cavor murdered in an effort to ensure that human violence will not be exported to his utopia, so Mond's predecessors ruthlessly eradicated humanity's capacity for violence by taming human passion.

Wells's lunar utopia resembles the Brave New World in other significant ways, especially in its aristocratic elite, comprised as it is of three main classes: administrators who are responsible for a specific content of the moon's bulk, experts who perform specialist operations like the football-headed artist; and the erudite, those responsible for all knowledge-repositories of information in the absence of all books. Beneath these three aristocratic groups come the operative classes, parallel in their role to the classes in Brave New World below the Alphas and Betas. The lunar society is thus described as a "world machine" (305) within which each citizen fits as a perfect unit:

Apart from their controlling intelligence, these subordinates are as inert and helpless as umbrellas in a stand. They exist only in relation to the orders they have to obey, the duties they have to perform. The bulk of these insects, however, who go to and fro upon the spiral ways ...are of the operative class. Machine hands, indeed some of these are in actual nature--it is no figure of speech; the single tentacle of the mooncalf hand is replaced by huge single or paired bunches of three, or five, or seven digits for clawing, lifting, guiding, the rest of them no more than subordinate appendages to these important parts. Some, who I suppose deal with bell striking mechanism, have enormous rabbit like ears just behind the eyes; some whose work lies in delicate chemical operations project a vast olfactory organ; others again have flat feet for treadles with anchylosed joints; and others . . . glass blowers seem mere lung bellows. But every one of these common Selenites is exquisitely adapted to the social need it meets. Fine work is done by fined-down workers amazingly dwarfed and neat. [308, 309]

Huxley seems to have taken the idea for his servile Gamma-plus dwarfs from this passage. Certainly Huxley's reference to the chemical workers who are being trained in test tube Rack 10 to tolerate lead, caustic soda, tar, and chlorine (13) owes much to the following description of a particularly intense form of vocational training inside the moon:

The making of these various sorts of operative must be a very curious and interesting process . . . . recently I came upon a number of young Selenites, confined in jars from which only the fore limbs protruded, who were being compressed to become machine-minders of a special sort. The extended 'hand' in this highly developed system of technical education is stimulated by irritants and nourished by injection while the rest of the body is starved . . . . It is quite unreasonable, I know, but these glimpses of the educational methods of these beings have affected me disagreeably. I hope, however, that may pass off and I may be able to see more of this aspect of this wonderful social order. That wretched-looking hand sticking out of its jar seemed to appeal for lost possibilities; it haunts me still, although, of course, it is really in the end a far more humane proceeding than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them. [310, 311]

One thinks here also of Huxley's embryonic rocket-plane engineers who "learn to associate topsy-turvydom with well-being" (13) so as to be better able to perform outer-space repairs. Huxley does not let the ironic mask slip, however, as does Wells in the last sentence of the above-quoted passage.

Although a philosophus gloriosus like Grandgrind often embodies Bergson's comic figure who insists on an encrustation of the mechanical upon the vital, the reader must wait for Wells to give literal expression to Dickens metonymy (workmen as literal hands) in Hard Times. It is probable that Wells had Dickens's trope in mind as he described the future machine minders described above in First Men in the Moon, and that the first two chapters of Brave New World follow the schoolroom model of Hard Times, with Bitzer and Foster serving as guides through and advocates for their respective model educational establishments. The now common concept of reification or mechanomorphism had one of its earliest expressions in Hard Times, and both Wells and Huxley depict in their dystopias the literal encrustation of the mechanical upon the living.

Works Cited

Bacon, Francis. A Selection of His Works. Ed. Sidney Warhaft. Toronto: Macmillan, 1965.

Bahmueller, C. F. The National Charity Company. Berkeley: U of California P, 1981.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Eds. George S. Ford and S. Monod. New York: Norton 2nd Critical Edition, Rpt. 1990.

_____. Our Mutual Friend. Ed. Stephen Gill. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Rpt. 1976.

Elliott, R. C. The Shape of Utopia. Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1970.

Frye, Northrop. An Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.

_____. "Dickens and the Comedy of Humors" Ed. Harold Bloom. . New York: Chelsea House, 1987. pp. 71-93.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Chatto and Windus, 1932. Uniform ed. 1950.

McMaster, Juliet. Dickens the Designer. London: Macmillan, 1987.

Poynter, J.R. "Benthamite Utopias." In Eugene Kamenka, ed. Utopias. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987. 48-69.

Stephens, Anthony. "The Sun State and its Shadow: On the Condition of Utopian Writing". In Kamenka, Utopias, 1-20.

Walsh, Chad. From Utopia to Nightmare. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962.

Wells, H.G. First Men in the Moon. London: George Newnes, 1901.





Last modified 8 June 2007

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