When Charles Dickens was writing his commentary on a fast industrializing world, the thought that Hard Times would still be relevant over 150 years later is assumed to be far from the forefront of his mind. And yet at present, 158 years after its first publication, Charles Dickens’ tale of industrialization and its implications still holds a prominent place in today’s society. The following is one interpretation of Dickens’ story of an industrialized dystopia, and discussed are its ever-relevant theme, the symbols and motifs which reinforce it, and the effective atmosphere which it creates.Throughout the novel there are two very prominent themes: the notion that industrialization has a mechanizing effect on human beings and the recurring battle of fact versus fancy. However, the latter can be seen as subordinate to the first. Forthwith in the novel Dickens establishes the emphasis on facts and statistics (“The One Thing Needful”), using a monologue to introduce his novel: “Now, what I want is, Facts. […]Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” (Dickens 3). Immediately the stage is set, with Dickens creating a character whose sole belief could no doubt be proved using further statistics and facts. What Dickens has also done by the end of the first chapter is describe a character who possesses qualities common to many industrialists and of that era, a character who himself appears to represent a part of the industry, one who was “inflexible, dry, and dictatorial” (Dickens 3). Given the prevalence of utilitarianism in the time of writing, it is apparent why Dickens chose to embody the main theme in a character that is so “eminently practical” that he comes off as cold as the great hulking…
…simplicity which enabled readers of any kind to sympathize with the characters bound to a dystopia fueled by the ever-turning gears and wheels of the great industrial machine. Dickens created a novel that thoroughly detailed the effects which industry forced upon humanity, as well as the fight man took to overcome such mechanization, one saw a battle between utilitarianism and humanism play out with the turn of each page, and one saw humanity prevail in the novel’s conclusion. However, humanity, it seems, is not always the preponderate in reality, with this battle of “fact versus fancy” still playing out today. Hard Times will forever be relevant so long as mankind continues to engineer the evolution of industry and industry continues to engineer the end of mankind’s evolution.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1990