Hard Times and the Nineteenth Century


Hard Times

Europe began the nineteenth century dominated by the romanticists. The realists changed the face of Europe once more by the middle of the nineteenth century. The importance of science and the industrialization of Europe characterized their movement. Where the romanticists believed in feelings, intuition, and imagination, the realists believed in a movement known as positivism, which applied the scientific method to the study of society. The authors of this period also changed their style of writing by dealing with cultural representation and life. They focused on "the here and now, with everyday events, with his own environment and with the movements (political, social etc.) of his time." Charles Dickens was an author during this period and his novel Hard Times reflects a number of different themes. The novel focuses on educational and economic systems of Victorian England, the industrial revolution, which spawned how industrial relations were viewed during the 1850's, and utilitarianism. I have chosen the two major themes of industrial relations and educational system during this period. Although, you can not discuss labor relations without bringing focus upon the class society of Victorian England during this period. I will use the Norton Critical Edition of Hard Times, the Sources of the Western Tradition, and the Communist Manifesto to support my analytical interpretation of Charles Dickens Hard Times.

During this period Dickens wrote for a weekly publication called Household Words, each issue dealt with a different social problem of the period. Hard Times began as a serialization in this weekly publication. In Hard Times Dickens writes about the horrors of the industrial revolution and was sparked by what he had seen first hand in Manchester, England fifteen years prior to writing Hard Times and the present goings on of a labor strike in Preston, England while he was conceiving the novel. The novel is almost biblical in nature as it has three books sowing, reaping and garnering. Book the First, "Sowing," is the planting of the seeds. It provides a basis for the problems that will affect Stephen Blackpool, who is a factory worker in Coketown. Book the Second, "Reaping," details the affect the industrial relations had on Stephen. The first to books describe the biblical passage,

 
"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap"(Galatians 6:7). Book the Third, "Garnering," describes in a broad way the results of what industrialization did to Victorian England.

The industrialization revolution brought many problems to Victorian England in the 1850's. Industrial towns such as Manchester and Preston sprung up in northern England. Prosperity came to those who owned the factories or mills, while despair came to the "hands," the factory workers. Coketown is one such northern England town and Stephen Blackpool is a typical factory worker of the period in Charles Dickens novel Hard Times. The novel exemplifies the problems of an industrial town in 1850 England. Dickens describes Coketown "A town of red brick, or brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as it matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage." He explains the black smoke spewed continuously from the factory chimneys and that the river is polluted by an ill-smelling purplish dye. Josiah Bounderby owns the factory where Stephen Blackpool is employed.
Stephen symbolizes the workers of this period, who put in long hours for little pay and lived under horrible conditions. Josiah on the other hand represents the greedy capitalist, who cares little for his workers. Hard Times illustrates the history of class struggles and is re-enforced by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto. The struggle between the bourgeoisie, "the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and the employers of wage-labour" and the proletariat, "the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power to live." In Hard Times Josiah Bounderby and Stephen Blackpool are representative of the bourgeoisie and proletariat classes respectively. Dickens alludes that the government knows the capacity of work the machines can produce, "So many hundred Hands in this Mill; so many hundred horse Steam Power. It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do." The workers are then paid by