How is the search for identity presented in Hard Times?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the search for identity is shown to be something that is depicted in a social context whereby individuals must gain some perspective from this in order to better understand themselves.  Dickens shows the search for identity in two forms.  The first part is what the social order dictates identity should be.  It is here where Gradgrind's idea of emphasizing "fact over fancy" or embracing the social utilitarianism at all costs is part of this.  This identity is translated to Gradgrind's children, as they have to embrace his own teachings and this feed into their own identity of self.  The second phase of this search for identity is one in which the characters understand that socially constructed notions of identity have to be rejected for more substantive and subjectively defined notions of identity.  Louisa endures this as she confronts her father as never teaching her anything of emotive values, enabling her life to be so devoid of redemption.  Tomas endures this himself with having to confront his own son and the lack of emotional guidance he has given him, contributing to the disheveled state of his own existence.  In this, the search for identity is something that is shown to exist on both social levels and individual levels, whereby the latter is often designed to repudiate the former.


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