Charles Dickens' Hard Times Essay

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Charles Dickens' Hard Times

Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times critiques the use of extreme utilitarianism as an acceptable means to governing a society in which citizens are able to lead happy, productive, flourishing lives. “Just the facts,”19th century English utilitarianism argued, are all one needs to flourish. Those answers that we can arrive at by way of mathematical, logical reasoning are all needed to live a full human life. Hard Times shows however that a “just the facts” philosophy creates a community inhospitable to the needs of one another, a society nearly void of human compassion, and one lacking in morality. Underlying the novel’s argument is the Aristotelian concept that the primary purpose of government is to
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A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations…With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures… (6)
Even the cloistered and mousy Mrs. Gradgrind knows “there is something – not an ology at all that [Gradgrind] has missed or forgotten” (152). In her essay “The Literary Imagination in Public
Life” Martha C. Nussbaum writes that the “missing” element in Mr. Gradgrind’s political-economic philosophy is the acknowledgment of life’s qualitative dimension (431). Exchanging the qualitative for the quantitative, the economic utilitarian measures life in statistical terms. Utilitarianism forbids the concept of human complexity to enter its fundamentally formulaic approach to life. Thus, Cissy Jupe is not Cissy Jupe, but “Girl number twenty,” a label that rigidly defines her as a commodity. Even the town bureaucrats are subjected to their method of numerical labeling – bodies number one through four all agree that no one should wonder (41-42).

As categorizing citizens numerically strips Cissy Jupe and others of their distinctive human qualities, Nussbaum argues that it equally creates the possibility of over-generalizing information about individuals which results in imprecise conclusions on the true nature of people. Accordingly, before Louisa visited Stephen’s home, she knew of the working
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