Is Dickens successful in realistically presenting the problems of industrial society in Hard Times?
Hard Times, written in 1854, realistically portrays the problems that the Industrial Revolution brought to England. By the mid-1800s, England had already largely industrialized, and Dickens's fictional town of Coketown in Hard Times is the site of labor unrest. His novel depicts the plight of the working class. Like the other "Hands," or industrial workers in the novel, Dickens's character Stephen Blackpool works in Bounderby's factory in a state of poverty and degradation. Unlike the other workers, however, he refuses to join a union, thinking it will only worsen the unrest between labor and industrialists.
Dickens's novel not only shows the tensions between labor and capitalists and the plight of the working class that characterized industrializing England, but it also shows the plight of women at the time. For example, Louisa Gradgrind, an educated woman, is forced to marry Bounderby, who is twice her age and with whom she has an unhappy union. Laws at the time also forbade all but the wealthy to obtain a divorce, so Stephen Blackpool must remain married to his drunken wife. Dickens's novel portrays many of the problems in English society at the time.
Where I think that Dickens' greatest success lies in Hard Times is through the depiction of a social mentality that fails to account for the complexity of emotional thought. For the people in Coketown, like Thomas Gradgrind, the industrialist mentality in which "facts, not fancy" becomes the basis for all being in the world. Dickens is able to show how difficult a condition this is. Dickens is able to clearly assess how emotional thought and emotional understanding is needed in order to make life worth living. When Louisa condemns her father for not providing her with the emotional frame of reference to exist in reality and when Tom becomes a source of sadness and shame for his father, Dickens has demonstrated success in depicting how a life devoted to only one source of the good can be limited. Dickens is able to show that "hard times" results when individuals fail to account for multiple and differentiated forms of being in the modern setting. Thomas' own acceptance of this demonstrates Dickens' success in showing the problems of mentality and mindset that exists within an industrial society.l