How is symbolism used in Hard Times?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I tend to think that Thomas Gradgrind is one of the strongest symbols in Dickens' work.  Dickens uses Gradgrind as the fundamental example of rationalist thought.  Gradgrind is a symbol of the rationalist and industrialist setting.  Dickens uses him as a symbol as all that is wrong with the individuals who take rationalism and industrialist thought to its logical conclusion.  Dickens uses his character as a symbol of that which is wrong or limited with believing only in utilitarian thought, as driven by industrialism and rationalism.  For Dickens, Gradgrind is a symbol.  He is reflective of the beliefs pervading the social order of the time.  Dickens uses him as a way to ensure that others understand the implications belief in such potent philosophies to an extent where no other thought can enter.  It is for this reason that Gradgrind is someone that is seen in a sad light by the end of the novel.  He is symbolic of the limitations of a world where industrialist thought and rationalism are taken to its extreme, a world where "fact not fancy" is the only guiding principle within it.