Hard Times: A Study of the Theme, Characters, and the Motive


Tennyson in his In Memoriam taught the Victorian world the lesson of Soul and tried successfully to pacify his own aching heart. So did the great scholar of that age, Arnold. He escaped with his gypsy and left the world exposed to material pursuits and selfishness. However, Dickens only could do what they could not do; Dickens showed the world the truth- the real figure of life. He tried to bring in what was expelled out from the mechanic life of the Victorian people.
Hard Times, one of the many masterpieces by Dickens, torches the growing utilitarianism in the Victorian society. Moreover, Dickens exposes the commercialization of education, manpower and even the leisure of people in the form circus. However, Dickens, the one ranked next only to Shakespeare in appeal, does not leave the world astray in the dry world of mechanism; he shows the way towards a better life with all the virtues of heart instead of the facts and figures world. For this purpose, Dickens draws the three noble and humble character in his novel- Louisa, Sissy, and the poor fated Rachael. These three ladies are tender heated, affectionate towards goodness and the aesthetic values in life and abhors the selfish people who are in the guise of goodness and welfare. On the other side, there are characters like Mr Gradgrind, Bounderby, M’Choakumchild, Tom and Harthouse. These characters, when unified together, take a pose of storm and are ready to slay the noble and gentle souls, crush them within an eye’s blink with the imposing education, loveless affection, ingratitude and faithlessness, and selfish ends.
When we examine from the beginning, where the innocents are being murdered, we can point that all attempts of blowing the little candles are in vain. Gradgrind, as a man as his name is, is always ready to crush the rose buds under his legs. In his school, in Stone-Lodge, everywhere he is reinforcing the facts and figures theory upon his children Tom and Louisa. His doctrine, however, cannot hold the knots of restriction upon the hearts of children fastened; very soon he finds Tom and Louisa ‘peeping with all might’ the circus act. His facts taste the first defeat:

“Thomas, though I have the fact before me, I find it difficult to believe…”

The tiny hole in the circus camp represents a ray of hope in the life of Louisa, as she very soon finds Sissy in her home to accompany her in the loneliness. Now, the stone man of Stone-Lodge, Gradgrind attempts every possible way to poison the heart of Sissy with facts and figures. Sissy, however, with a single ray of hope in life that a day her father would return, bears everything but keeps herself unchanged. She does not let the venom of dry facts and colourless figures enter inside her heart.

“… to the question, “What is the first principle of this science?” the absurd answer, “To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me.”

Sissy returns the golden rule from the Bible for the questions of science. She only accepts education and does not welcome the ugly selfish knowledge to grind one’s own axe. Here also, the little candle inside the heart of Sissy cannot be blown dark by Gradgrind and Choakumchild. Later, with only hope that Tom can get better position, Louisa, despite her all broken dreams, accepts the bully, Bounderby as her husband. She loves Tom and sacrifices her life almost for his good only! However, during the conversation of marriage proposal by Bounderby, when Gradgrind asks Louisa if she had some secret proposal from anyone else, she very humbly utters:

“… What other proposal can have been made to me? Whom have I seen? Where have I been? What are my heart’s experiences?”

This reply from Louisa exposes all about the dry and emotionless life of the girl at Stone-Lodge. Yet, the ray of hope that her brother could do well, wins over the virgin heart of this innocent lady…
Loveless marriage, wooing of a countryman, Harthouse and the faithlessness of Tom, the brother whom she loves, aids to the growing morbidity of Louisa. She returns back to Stone-Lodge, but only to change the once tender heart of the now stone man to softness once again. Moreover, the ray of hope again comes from the tiny hole, conspicuous in the discourse of Gradgrind and Bounderby.

“… The enlightenment has been painfully forced upon me, and discovery is not mine…”

“I-I had intended to recommend, my dear Bounderby, that you should allow Louisa to remain here on a visit, and be attended by Sissy, who understands her, and in whom she trusts.”

At last, we see that the pride-pyramid of Gradgrind’s facts and figures falls down and accepts its loss near faith, hope and charity. Another, one Rachael, I’d like to quote at last, nurses the mad wife of the thorn and thorn won Stephen Blackpool. Rachael becomes the friend to Sissy. Louisa is nurtured and loved by Sissy and her children grant Louisa the tender love that she lacked. Tom, the faithless brother is forgiven and sent away by the clever Sissy to save the cap of Gradgrind. It is Sissy, the sole solace, who pardons the refuge to everyone trapped in the world of facts and figures. Thus, the candle light horns the triumph over storms and keeps the world warm with a ray of hope from the tiny hole. 

One thought on “Hard Times: A Study of the Theme, Characters, and the Motive

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