Hard Times and Dickens Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2568 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion


Dickens is always generous, he is generally kind-hearted, he is often sentimental, he is sometimes intolerably maudlin." (Chesterton, 1) Again, in this critique, there is almost a benefit of the doubt given to the indulgence in his moralizing and the relative inflexibility of his character which makes the argument that Dickens is fully aware of the tendencies which have often seen him so roundly criticized. Nonetheless, he finds a purposefulness in an approach where moral impressions are unmistakable. As he had done quite often in his career, with Hard Times, "Dickens again flies the banner of social reform, touching on themes of industrialization, education, and Utilitarianism in the sweeping Industrial Revolution of the 1850's." (Perdue, 1) In doing so, he would also position himself to absorb a great deal of criticism for what many in his time would deem as small-minded dogmatism.

But to the defense of Chesterton's argument, Hard Times truly does offer myriad opportunities to observe Dickens in a pointedly self-aware state. In the dynamic between Stephen and Bounderby, Dickens establishes reader sympathies that ensure his critical punches land. Referring back to Bounderby's despicable presiding over Stephen, we find Dickens taking real and powerful shots at his santimony. To the point, "it is here more than anywhere else that the sternness of Dickens emerges as separate from his softness; it is here, most obviously, so to speak, that his bones stick out." (Chesterton, 1)Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Paper on Hard Times and Dickens as Assignment

Bounderby's behavior shows how Dickens' really likes to use the writing device of irony. As Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit, who is a rich, high-class woman with a divorce, together call Stephen guilty of "impiety," we know that the two are having some sort of inappropriate relationship with one another. This casts a blaring spotlight on the hypocrisy at the root of his cruel religiosity. Bounderby takes on the mantle of Dickens' twinned reproach for the system and church which had conspired to make England so deeply unequal a place. That God had come to overwhelm the senses of justice and humanism seems a clear justification to Dickens that the core morality of religion had by the Victorian age been exposed for the bastard-child of human conceit which it had come to embody. Dickens' true strength is in bringing this point to bear through the set of human interactions which he portrays. By appealing to the thin archetypes which drive his work, Dickens succeeds in composing a treatise on social inequality through the modicum of fiction. This also allows for the type of biting sarcasm and dramatized cruelty that are part and parcel of Dickens' dividing of lines. The double standard which Bounderby clearly entitles himself, for instance, is an induction that may not be truly based in the behaviors of rich and poor, but in the context of this work of socially critical fiction, it is a characterization which drives home quite audibly the text's point concerning inequality.

Indeed, in the above claim by Bounderby against Stephen, was can see that Dickens is be very sarcastic when he uses the word "impiety." Particularly, the statement is delivered at the expense of a poor man, demonstrating a perceived relationship between righteousness and social class. The cruel and empowered judge would characterize himself as the man of God, so noted for his chosen rank and the authority vested in him by state, and certainly not, from the reader's (or Dickens') perspective, because of his admirable moral disposition.. The outcome of Stephen's visit to Bounderby and Sparsit is that his poor, labor-class status renders him morally, and thus legally, forbidden from divorce.

To the modern reader, the aspects of his society which Dickens finds so reviling seem as self-apparent. Thus, there is an almost laughable quality to the extremity in the sinister hypocrisy of his aristocrats or a similarly laughable absence of credibility in the earnest victimhood of his poor characters. However, in the sum of these parts is a consideration that resonated amongst the intellectual elite of his time rather than as a matter of assumptive rationality. As Chesterton would relay to the discussion, "the Liberalism which Dickens and nearly all of his contemporaries professed had begun in the American and the French Revolutions. Almost all modern English criticism upon those revolutions has been vitiated by the assumption that those revolutions burst upon a world which was unprepared for their ideas -- a world ignorant of the possibility of such ideas." (Chesterton, 1) Therefore, when Dickens approached his characters less as individuals and more as ideas, he did so to the benefit of society, if not to the benefit of each individual reader. Surely today, with much of Dickens' work done and many aspects of industrialized society at least claiming to recognize the principles which he espoused, there is a fundamental sense when reading Hard Times that its message is obvious and overwrought. However, it could be more useful to regard it in its own time and place, where its ideas were likely to have generated so hostility, outrage and even inspiration where intended.

A clear symptom of the Victorian era, we can see in this work Dickens taking particular pains to demonstrate the manner in which religion and justice had come to falsely associate to establish a hypocritical framework for social and cultural hierarchy. The vitriol which Bounderby aims at Stephen is powerfully representative of the purpose in this association, allowing the wealthy to prevail over fundamental personal institutions such as the faith, family and welfare of the poor. This is the condition which drove Dickens not just to write Hard Times but to infuse it with an impassioned call for political and social change that functions more effectively as a doctrine to equality than as a work of fiction.

Works Cited

Allingham, P.V. (2002). Harry French's Twenty Plates for Dickens's "Hard Times for These Times " in the British Household Edition (1870s). The Victorian Web.

Chesterton, G.K. (2008). Hard Times. Appreciations and Criticisms. Online at http://www.dickens-literature.com/Appreciations_and_Criticisms_by_G.K_Chesterton/16.html

Dickens, C. (1870). Hard Times. Barnes & Noble Classics.

Forster, J. (1998). The Life of Charles Dickens: Book First: Childhood and Youth. Online at http://lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/CD-Forster-1.html

Perdue, D. (2007). Hard Times. David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page. Online at http://www.fidnet.com/~dap1955/dickens/hardtimes.html [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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