Hard Times – For These Times

Finished February 8, 2010

Coketown. A fictitious manufacturing town given its life and breath in Dickens’ 10th novel. Everything about this story screams of the injustice and bitterness which pervaded Victorian England. Partly a social commentary, partly a personal history, partly allegorical… Dickens showed what comes of society when all people care about are “facts, facts, facts”: moral decline, loss of love and hope, and the corruption of people’s souls.

How interesting that the industrial Coketown not only turns out too much smoke and not enough compassion, it also serves as the setting where the no-nonsense Mr. Gradgrind “manufactures” Louisa and Tom (among other children). The former becomes a beautiful but emotionally repressed woman and the latter a “whelp” who cares only for himself. Despite the fact that there are a great many characters worth noting, Louisa and Tom always make the greatest impression on me. One of Dickens’ early descriptions of Louisa seems to encompass a great deal of my personality especially in one respect: her devotedness to her brother.

Dickens viciously attacks the industries that caused so much misery to millions of people (including himself), but out of this violent passion, comes a simply brilliant piece of literature. Many readers consider Hard Times the uncharacteristic “black sheep” of his major novels, because it was mainly written to raise sales of the “Household Words” periodical… However, don’t judge the book by those feeble arguments, look close and behold the sharp wit of a true master.

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