While finishing the reading of Dicken’s novel, Hard Times, I am interested in three connected but distinct aspects of the narrative. First, as Professor Pasanek mentioned in lecture, the titles of different chapters (and the three Books) are noteworthy. They are not only useful in identifying (and recalling) extending metaphors (ie Sowing, Reaping, Garnering—planting facts in the Book 1, by Book 3, Louisa is lamenting the barren “garden” of her spirit) but are also ironically supportive of a more “factual” reading of the novel. Despite Dickens’ overall theme of ‘fancy’ ousting ‘fact’ and ‘heart’ prevailing over ‘head’, the form of this novel (as well as his preparatory manuscripts portrayed in lecture) indicates a proclivity for Dickens himself to mechanize the process of novel-writing.
The second aspect of the narrative worth examining in the context of Dickens’ other literary works is his use of “doubles”. The main characters (if not exact foils of one another) tend to work to exaggerate each other’s flaws or strengths. For example: Sissy and Bitzer exist in parallel, intersecting then re-intersecting contexts and represent two ends of the economic/social spectrum being satirized in this novel. By the end, Sissy is committed to helping Louisa experience the wealth of sentiment and imagination to be found in humanity (compassion, sympathy, altruism, etc) whereas Bitzer is committed to convicting Tom and stealing his position with Mr. Bounderby. Ironically, Bitzer’s teacher and Tom’s father, Mr. Gradagrind must grapple with the impact of his “Philosophy” (that was instilled in Bitzer and regurgitated to him so as it exaggerate it’s fallacy): “But I’m sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to is a person’s self-interest”(339). Here, Dickens blatantly asserts his own conceptions of the limits to Adam Smith’s theory of the division-of-labor. Ultimately, the “gap”or real “black abyss that Mrs. Sparsit imagines” and “Stephen falls into” is the emptiness of those pupils of Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy, the vacancy of his own daughter’s sense of self—the result of the mechanization of human-nature.
The last aspect, which deserves more attention than my knowledge or the size of the post can substantiate is the role of aesthetics in Dickens’ novel writing and perhaps its impact on his deliberate developmental choices of his characters and particular attention to realist detail. His representations of industrialization (in the particular, character interactions and evolution) work to (as Professor Pasenek said in lecture) “transfigure” Coketown. Moreover, this transfiguration entails an inspection of the new relationship between man and his material environment, the tangible context in which he lives and works.