Themes of Hard Times
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is known for criticizing the social class system of the Victorian era in which the poor were exploited. The novel “Hard Times” is no exception to this rule. Dickens has attacked utilitarian education, the arrogance of the middle and upper classes, and the Industrial Revolution. He has praised the morality of the working class and their ability to live an honest life. “Hard Times” is the title of the book and a theme. Each character in the novel is faced with a difficult time. The major themes of the novel are;
Imagination and industrialization
Two important themes of Dickens’s “Hard Times” center on the importance of imagination and the dangers of industrialization. Living during the Romantic literature of England, Dickens shared the belief that imagination was the strongest and most transformative of all mental abilities. Indeed, according to Romantics, the only stimulus of the imagination was the experience of feeling, a passage of rational thought for the attainment of the ideal, which exists spiritually rather than in the logical state.
In addition to the theme of imagination in Hard Times, Dickens created a theme focusing on unchecked industrialization. The industrial revolution played an important role in changing dramatically familiar landscapes during Dickens’ life. Like other writers of his time, Dickens feared that industrialization would not only destroy much of the natural world but also over-mechanize human life, including mental processes. A mechanical mind would obviously lack creativity and so Dickens’s themes about imagination and industrialization are strongly intertwined.
The significance of love and bondage
The bonds of family love transcend the forces of truth and the fantasies of the imagination. Just as family bonds present any fact as real, these bonds deny reason. Louisa Gradgrind considers herself emotionally numb, but she is loyal to her brother Tom, even beyond reason. She pays him to pay off the gambling debts, although the logical reasoning is that such financial support is only the work of a useless fool. Mr. Gradgrind’s devotion to Louise leads him to make a radical change in the driving philosophy of his life when she falls in crisis, and this change later costs him his seat in Parliament. He also risks his reputation when he ignores the law and saves Tom from prison. Thus, throughout the novel, Dickens shows the significance of love in human life, ranging from romantic love to devotional love.
Unhappy married life
There are many unhappy marriages in hard times and none of them are resolved happily in the end. Mr. Gradgrind’s marriage to his frail wife is not exactly a cause of sadness for both of them, but the source of the restless life for their children. The Gradgrind family is not a loving or affectionate family. The main unhappy marriage portrayed by the novel is between Louisa Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. Louisa marries him not out of love but out of a sense of duty to her brother Tom. Although Bounderby’s intentions towards Luisa seem a bit daunting at first, he does not express any intention of harming her.
Stephen Blackpool has also been made unhappy in his life as a result of his marriage. Gradually through the process of marriage, the girl who seemed very sweet to him when he married the girl many years ago, becomes the source of frustration. So, the fact is that love, affection, care, and expression are the soul of happy conjugal life, not the fact of financial security and infatuation.
The importance of the female role
In the Victorian era, women were usually associated with perceived feminine traits such as feeling, moral purity, and sensitivity. The Hard Times suggests that women can resist the effects of mechanization of industrialization because they possess these characteristics. For instance, when Stephen is frustrated with the monotony of his life as a factory worker, Rachael’s mild sympathy inspires him to continue. He enhances her qualities by referring to her as his guiding angel. Similarly, Sissy introduces love to the Gradgrind family, eventually teaching Louisa how to recognize her emotions. Indeed, Dickens suggests that Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy of interest and rational calculations prevent Louisa from developing her natural feminine traits. Perhaps Mrs. Gradgrind’s inability to practice her femininity allows Gradgrind to increase the importance of truth in raising her children. However, through the various female characters in the novel, Dickens suggests that a sense of femininity is needed to restore social harmony.
Surveillance and knowledge
One of Dickens’ main themes in the novel “Hard Times” is surveillance and the concept of knowledge. There are some characters who spend time protecting privacy and hiding their history, and there is another character who devotes himself to researching, analyzing, and listening to the lives of others. Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Gradegrind are both masters of surveillance but Sparsit is more gossipy, Gradgrind more scientific. Another operator is James Harthouse, who devotes himself to understanding and “knowing” Louisa. From these three characters, we get the idea that the knowledge of another person is a form of authority and power over them. In addition to Luisa, another victim of surveillance is Josiah Bounderby. So, the fact is that without research, knowledge cannot be gained and without rational thinking from an imaginative point of view, knowledge cannot be perfect.