Smoke Serpents and the Malevolence of Industrialization

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As the first stray hints of bright morning begin to peek over the urban horizon, ominous, shadowy trails of smoke erupt from the gray giants soon to be filled up with machines. Leaving behind embalming coats of soot and residue in every direction, the endlessly winding serpents indiscriminately constrict the breaths of the impoverished workers and devour fancy in their paths. Meanwhile, on a hill overlooking the town, the factory owner rests easily in a bulky red house bearing BOUNDERBY upon a brazen plate. Dickens’ depictions of Coketown in Hard Times embody the flaws and corruption that persist in the fictional, industrialized city. The political and economic systems in the story, modeled after those in mid-19th century England, call for conformity and monotony while devaluing imagination and individuality amongst its citizens, all for the selfish gains of a small number of upper class individuals. The interminable streams of smoke emerging from the factory chimneys recurrently enunciate the dangers of increasingly prevalent industrialism as well as Bounderby’s pomposity and immorality. Although the pollution continually blankets Coketown with a deadly haze, Mr. Bounderby ignorantly worships the smog as a symbol of his thriving riches. In the same way that the town “lay shrouded in a haze of its own”, Bounderby’s views of the factory operations are distorted by personal interest; the smoke indicates that the factories are functioning and producing materials to be sold and traded for profit (82). As long as money is made, his selfishness blocks out the outstanding truth of the atrocity of the unfair laboring conditions, just as the smoke “appeared impervious to the sun’s rays” (82). The utter contrariety of his pretentious under... ... middle of paper ... ...hful and benevolent man, following his return from Old Hell Shaft, serves to exhibit the grave flaws of industrialism that are embodied by the ubiquitous serpents of smoke that hang over the factories. Often associated with evil and corruption, the serpent-like quality of the smoke that overtakes Coketown represents not only the literal hazards of development but also the figurative clouding out of the moral judgments and responsibilities of factory owners, such as Bounderby. Such vivid and lifelike imagery of the pollution in Coketown emphasizes the objective and subjective degradation caused by the revolution and the resulting ramifications on not only the physical landscape but also the spirits of the citizens. As the serpents strangle the principles out of the rich and the vitality out of the poor, Dickens exposes the true price paid for industrial advancement.

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