Critically analyze the theme of class conflict as presented in Hard Times.

The class conflict in Hard Times is the Socialist conflict between capital and labor. Dickens, however, has a different solution from Marx, hoping for a moral change on the part of the rich rather than a systemic upheaval.

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Lord Macaulay objected to what he called the "sullen Socialism" in Hard Times and, although the book is not ideologically Socialist, it is easy to see what he means. More than any other Dickens novel, Hard Times divides humanity into two main classes: the exploiters and the exploited. The social origins of the characters are not particularly important. At the end of the book, it turns out that Josiah Bounderby has been lying all along about the extreme poverty in which he was born. However, this is merely a matter of vanity. Bounderby lies not because he derives any particular advantage from doing so, but because he likes to appear as a self-made man. The real damage he does, however, lies in his exploitation of other people. Whatever his origins may be, he is now a member of the elite class which exploits others.

Harthouse, unlike Bounderby, was born into the upper classes. Like Bounderby, he is exploitative, but because he is not as rich as Bounderby, he is unable to wreck havoc on such a large scale. Harthouse attempts to exploit Gradgrind, Louisa, and Bounderby himself, but he has no control over the destinies of hundreds or thousands of employees. The conflict between classes in Hard Times really is the clash of capital and labor. Dickens has quite different ideas about how to resolve this from any Socialist: he seeks the moral improvement of the rich man, who should then look after the interests of his workers, but Marx would recognize the nature of the struggle.

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