Charles Dickens Utilitarianism Analysis

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Charles Dickens’ novels are usually set in the backdrop of the industrial age and Hard Times is no exception. Dickens presents “a criticism of the ‘Hard Facts’ philosophy and of the society which he believed increasingly to be operating on the principles of that philosophy” (Arneson 60). He puts forward the fictional setting of Coketown as a living factory that epithomises the “satanic industrialism […] derive[d] from an inhuman application of geo-metrically abstract principles in society, education, and religion” (Bornstein 159). Such society is thus in itself a regulated machine and unwilling to accept social change. Considering Dickens’ criticism of utilitarianism, it is therefore unusual that the narrative in Hard Times remains ambiguous…show more content…
In 1854, Dickens’ political mindset regarding technological progress was coupled with intrigue in lieu of its possibilities but with worry “for the individual and for the quality of working-class life” (Fielding and Smith 425). Many of the descriptions regarding the social and physical environment are exaggerated and some even absurd. In the opening chapter, we experience Mr. M’Choakumchild speech about life being about solely facts and the undesirableness of a fanciful mentality (Dickens 1.1.3-4). In such instances, the implication of the headmaster’s name and his expression define the dangerous grasp of utilitarian values upon the students. Richard Arneson makes the argument that Dickens’ portrayal of the effects of utilitarian education exemplifies his criticism (65). An exclusively fact based education system is central to the story as students’ mindsets are altered and symbolically mined for abilities and skills that are in line with facts and reason, while imagination and creativity are stigmatised. Dickens’ characterization of Bitzer is evidence for the changing of children’s mentality and altering the way they think (Arneson 65-66). Dickens’ description of Coketown is another visual representation of Dickens’ illustration saying that, “It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled”…show more content…
Hard Times portrays Stephen as a patient sufferer of the utilitarian system, presenting him in such a way that readers will sympathise with his misfortune. However, such an argument dismisses that Stephen is partially responsible for his own victimisation. One of his most defining flaws is his passive nature whereby he defers to the advice of others as well as being unwilling to change anything or challenge anyone, resulting in his life stagnating and slowly being entrapped by those that take action against him. Even as he visits Bounderby to seek a divorce to his bad marriage, he concedes to Bounderby opinion of his marital affairs who tells him “there is a sanctity in [marriage] […], it must be kept up” (Dickens 1.11.83). In addition, this chapter is titled ‘No Way Out’ which further emphasises Stephen being stuck. This further translates into him not stopping his bothersome wife from committing suicide, thinking to himself that Rachael must wake to save his wife as he is unable to move (Dickens 1.13.98). Arneson argues that Stephen voices some of Dickens’ criticisms (64) when he describes the inefficiency of simply shipping union representatives, like Slackbridge, abroad (Dickens 2.5.169), yet this interpretation is primarily validated by Stephen’s his position as a mild natured worker against the arrogant Harthouse and Bounderby. That being said, it
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