Essay on Charles Dickens' Hard Times

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Charles Dickens' Hard Times

The death of God for many in the Victorian era due to scientific discoveries carried with it the implication that life is nothing more than a kind of utilitarian existence that should be lived according to logic and facts, not intuition or feeling – that without God to impose meaning on life, life is meaningless. Charles Dickens, in Hard Times, parodies this way of thought by pushing its ideologies and implications to the extreme in his depiction of the McChoakumchild School.

The McChoakumchild School is based on the idea that, since life is nothing more than an accumulation of facts, education should be nothing more than their acculturation. This is clear from the opening scene (in a chapter titled "The
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However, the consequences of this extreme approach to education are extremely damaging to the characters that are forced to endure it. The reader can see this coming especially clearly when Dickens pushes the extremes of this glorification of factual education to include the explicit prohibition of unstructured thought. After Mr. Gradgrind overhears Louisa using the phrase "I wonder" and instructs her to "never wonder," Dickens writes, "Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating the reasons without stooping to the cultivations of the sentiments and affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder" (56).

This prohibition of lateral or unstructured thought gives Louisa no way of contemplating or even acknowledging her emotive side, which leaves her utterly unable to understand her feelings. She is so unequipped to deal with affective matters that she lets her father talk her into marrying a truly detestable man – Mr. Bounderby. After she realizes she hates him – brought about by her exposure to some sort of romance with James Harthouse, a kind of education through experience – she says to her father, "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?
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