Imagery in literature is quite common, and the meaning of the term varies greatly from sense perceptions by the reader to specific descriptions of objects and scenes. Figurative language, especially metaphors and similes, goes hand-in-hand with imagery, which today has become almost an essential element of literary genres and even novels.
In Hard Times, author Charles Dickens demonstrates how the texture or physical elements of prose like metaphors, similes, and imagery can be separated from the author’s overall argument so as to add depth and feel to his novel. Dickens paints pictures by the use of agricultural images to create realism, add interest to the novel, and guide readers through the deeper meanings in his work. Hard Times is divided into three books: “Sowing,” “Reaping,” and “Garnering,” all agricultural images prompting the reader to think in terms of metaphorical references to the characters and scenes in the novel. For example, the book begins with the speaker exclaiming:
Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
The image created is the sowing of “Facts” like seeds into impressionable minds, which will not be cultivated. The brainwashing principles planted into the children are not expected to be nurtured. The author is showing the difference between horticulture and preaching the lack of imagination in English school systems.
A further example of the author’s agricultural imagery is seen in Mr. Gradgrind’s explanation to Mr. M’Choakumchild of his theory that the best way to educate is to limit the knowledge dispensed to simplistic facts. For example, a broader education
had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics and physical science, French, German, Latin, and Greek. He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two and thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, M’Choakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!
The choice of the word “bloom” is a direct agricultural image intended to relate to Dickens’s overall motif.
The natural agricultural cycle of time is determined by the seasons. The artificial man-made time is controlled by a factory-work clock: “Time went on in Coketown like its own machine.” This image is contrasted with the novel’s agricultural time periods referenced by sowing, reaping, or garnering, which requires a slower, natural cultivation period instead of the rapid mechanization of factory time schedules.
Hard Times leaves no doubt that agricultural images lend thickness to the texture of a novel. Dickens effectively contrasts the “plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room” and the “inflexible, dry, and dictatorial” voice of the teacher with the cultivation and garnering required to grow the seeds of a child’s imagination until it blooms to natural maturity.