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Very much the social reformer, Charles Dickens dedicated his novel Hard Times to Thomas Carlyle, a social critic whose account of the French Revolution also influenced the writing of A Tale of Two Cities. With its fictional city of Coketown, Hard Times exposes the injustices of society and the evils of an industrial system; it also satirizes the political economists of Dickens's time and reviles the loveless home of Thomas Gradgrind, who believes that children need only be taught 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.”
Such aspects as Grandgrind's insistence on mere facts, along with the mediocrity of life in an industrial town whose inhabitants produce only from machines rather than their human creativity produces a loveless society, peopled by those who are self-absorbed, arrogant, and lacking in human compassion. These traits are personified in the character of the callous and materialistic Josiah Bounderby, the owner of a Coketown factory, who believes that he can acquire everything in life with money, even a wife. However, in the end he loses everything but his money, thus underscoring the warnings of Dickens that are given in his novel.
Indeed, the words of Louisa Gradgrind express the sentiments of Dickens himself who criticized the dehumanization of his times.
“How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?"
The renowned Victorian art critic and sage, John Ruskin, felt that Hard Times was the superior work of Dickens, and wrote that it “should be studied with close and earnest care by persons interested in social questions.” Much like his historical romance A Tale of Two Cities that warns of the evil selfishness in man which can destroy him, Hard Times stands as an invective against industrialization and materialism and serves as a warning to great nations today.
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