Hard Times For Recent Times By Charles Dickens

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Hard Times for Recent Times by Charles Dickens


First published as a serial between April and August 1854, Charles Dickens's Hard Times deals with the traditional battle between reason (logic or, later, science) and the imagination (the arts). He labels logic "fact" in his novel and sets out to demonstrate that fact alone cannot lead to a positive life. The book clearly offers a harsh critique of the utilitarianism movement, in which logic reigns supreme. The utilitarian philosophy allowed little room for what it considered the superfluous aspects of the imagination. Dickens had attacked the same system in Dombey and Son (1848), in which Mr. Dombey represented the product of a system that found its roots in rationality and valued only material gain. Both that novel and Bleak House (1853) had eased into his anti-utilitarian message through the development of characters into representatives of that system. However, in Hard Times, Dickens immediately reveals the harsh contrast between the undesirable, although necessary, world of "fact" versus that of "fancy." While common sense predicts that neither world could exist on its own in pure form, Dickens emphasizes that only disaster can result when "fact" is allowed to do so (Gross & Pearson, pp. 99).


Dickens cleverly chooses the mysterious and exotic world of Sleary's circus to represent the imagination. It offers color, excitement, and a figurative escape from the real world for its audience. The escape proves a literal one for Dickens's protagonist, Sissy, a purposely universal name establishing her as representative of all, who is born into the wonderfully imaginative life. However, Sissy Jupe becomes an orphan when deserted by her father, leaving her to be adopted by the symbolically named Thomas Gradgrind, whose household is a literal "grind," void of all humor, love, or imagination. Gradgrind ignores his own children, to their great disadvantage, and does the same to Sissy. She pities Gradgrind's daughter, Louisa, and his son, Tom, both of whom have been raised without affection or encouragement to find and exercise their creative selves. Dickens emphasizes the terrible results that arise from such treatment, much as he would do again with the character Estella in Great Expectations (1861). He typically offered cautionary tales to his audience, many of which focused on children; their abuses generally represented those of the author's own Victorian society toward its less-fortunate members, day laborers and the poor. Dickens himself suffered under such a system as a child who endured the abuses of work in a factory to support his family imprisoned due to his father's debt. However, he did have loving, if often misguided and unrealistic, parents. A message shared by all his novels that focus on young children remains the strength a child may gain from a firm belief in their own capacity to achieve, a belief that must build on the bedrock of nurture from parental figures (Dickens et al, pp. 56).

Issues Relating to Recent Times

Notable in Hard Times is the lack of comic relief normally provided by Dickens through humorous characters that ...
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