Essay on Charles Dickens' Hard Times

Essay on Charles Dickens' Hard Times

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Charles Dickens' Hard Times


The death of God for many in the Victorian era due to scientific discoveries carried with it the implication that life is nothing more than a kind of utilitarian existence that should be lived according to logic and facts, not intuition or feeling – that without God to impose meaning on life, life is meaningless. Charles Dickens, in Hard Times, parodies this way of thought by pushing its ideologies and implications to the extreme in his depiction of the McChoakumchild School.

The McChoakumchild School is based on the idea that, since life is nothing more than an accumulation of facts, education should be nothing more than their acculturation. This is clear from the opening scene (in a chapter titled "The One Thing Needful") in which the reader is presented with an incredibly enthusiastic speaker addressing the students of the school and articulating its philosophy: "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" (11). It is clear that speaker places all his faith in (scientific) facts. In this exaggerated ideology, they even assume a religious significance, which can be seen by the author's capitalization of the word facts, the sowing (also the title of Book One) / planting metaphor which is reminiscent of the biblical parable about sowing the seeds of faith (in this case fact), and the proselytizing rhetoric. Another example of this rhetoric can be found in chapter 5: "The McChoakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and everything was fact … and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest,...


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...n of science to the place religion once held. The result of this worship of fact is a "conscious death" (described by Louisa) – not a death of consciousness, but a consciousness in spite of death: an ability to think but not feel, or more literally, to think but not live. Since Dickens is implying that the meaning and enjoyment of life cannot be explained by science, he is then also implying that not everything valuable – including that most valuable – is explainable by science. So, even if religion doesn't have a place in Victorian society, its values still ought to. This is emphasized by the switch in Gradgrind from thinking things like "the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist" (215) to, at the end of the novel, "making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity; and no longer trying to grind that Heavenly trio into his dusty little mills" (291).

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