Image from: http://zeteojournal.com/2015/05/08/hard-times-scottwalker/
Own critical topic: Comment on the importance of facts and their impact on the individuals of Coketown.
The Victorian Period was a time that promoted social responsibility. It was an age of efficiency and improvement, particularly for economic gain. With the Industrial Revolution in full force, the immediacy of these needs was evident. In Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, we are able to identify this urgency for practicality in school, the community and home life, and its detrimental effects on the soul.
Social responsibility is epitomised in the workers of Coketown. In the passage, riddled with repetition, we are encouraged to acknowledge the monotony of the workers’ lives in order to achieve society’s financial goals:
‘ It contained several large streets all vey like one another,
and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited
by people equally like one another, who are went in and out
at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements,
to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same
as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the
last and next.’ (18)
Coketown is anaphorically denoted as a town with ‘so much material wrought up, so much fuel consumed, so many powers worn out, so much money made,’ a place of ‘direful uniformity.’ It is the uniformity that is viewed as practical in the town, as individuality is not effective, or is deemed unnecessary. The ‘unnecessary’ is found in feeling, in difference, in uniqueness, or in expression. For the avid members of Coketown, like Mr Gradgrind, these are not qualities that can be quantified and are therefore not resourceful.
Mr Gradgrind advocates anything quantifiable, such as facts. He is so passionate about his facts, such that ‘you may force him to swallow boiling fat, but you shall never force him to suppress the facts of his life.’ He was an ‘eminently practical father’. So much so, that the value he saw in his daughter, was not love, but a ‘metallurgical Lousia’, seeing only her knowledge in science and technology. The same as his son Thomas, ‘mathematic Thomas’, impressing his father solely by his facts in mathematics. Mr Gradgrind removes all sense of imagination and childhood innocence from his children’s lives. A cow is not a cow, and can never be featured in a nursery rhyme jumping over the moon, but is a ‘graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.’
It is living with these ‘facts’ and constant determination for more useful knowledge that, whilst expands the mind, diminishes the soul. This is evident in the ‘jaded sullenness’ of both children, Thomas and Louisa, each with a ‘starved imagination.’ Neither had ‘the brightness natural to cheerful youth’, like that of Sissy Jupe, who has sunlight irradiating from her. There is a juxtaposition between classmates Bitzer and Sissy, the former from elite society, and Sissy, the daughter of circus performers. Bitzer with skin ‘so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge’ was a ‘pitcher’ full of facts and yet did not have the same soulful capability that Sissy did.
It is evident from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times that there is a stress put on individuals to know all the facts in order to operate a well-working, streamlined, productive society. However, these qualifications may be stripping the individual of their capacity to love, to feel and to imagine.