Hard Times Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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Are there any elements of Marxism in Hard Times?

There are no elements of Marxism is Hard Times. Dickens is uninterested in political ideology, believing that the solution to the misery of the poor is for the rich to take better care of them. Even when this is clearly impossible, he does not consider any form of Socialism, let alone espouse it.

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Lord Macaulay objected to the "sullen Socialism" of Hard Times, but George Orwell points out, in an essay on Dickens in which he quotes this remark, that there is not a line in the book that can objectively be read as espousing Marxist ideology. Dickens is, in fact, remarkably free of ideology of any kind. Orwell points out that some writers believe strongly in systemic change while others think that the system does not much matter and that "if men would behave decently, the world would be decent." Dickens is firmly in the second camp.

Dickens's solution to tyranny and oppression, therefore, is not revolution, but a change of heart on the part of the rich which leads them to behave more generously and help the poor. This change is shown most clearly in A Christmas Carol. The nearest equivalent to Scrooge in Hard Times is Josiah Bounderby, who is humiliated but undergoes no such change of heart. The atmosphere of the book is therefore much darker. Coketown is portrayed as an abomination, a place of ugliness and misery, and a problem for which there is apparently no solution.

The bleakness of the novel is partly attributable to Dickens's realization that his favorite solution, the "good rich man," will not work here. Even a reformed Bounderby could not make life endurable for thousands of workers in Coketown. However, this does not mean that Dickens ever considers, let alone espouses, a revolutionary Socialist solution. He seems instead to abandon the overall problem as insoluble, like poverty. An individual may be lifted out of this misery, but there is no solution to the misery itself.

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