Hard Times

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Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Analysis

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Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hard Times, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon

Hand in hand with the glorification of data and numbers and facts in the schoolhouse is the treatment of the workers in the factories of Coketown as nothing more than machines, which produce so much per day and are not thought of as having feelings or families or dreams. Dickens depicts this situation as a result of the industrialization of England; now that towns like Coketown are focused on producing more and more, more dirty factories are built, more smoke pollutes the air and water, and the factory owners only see their workers as part of the machines that bring them profit. In fact, the workers are only called "Hands", an indication of how objectified they are by the owners. Similarly, Mr. Gradgrind's children were brought up to be "minds". None of them are people or "hearts".

As the book progresses, it portrays how industrialism creates conditions in which owners treat workers as machines and workers respond by unionizing to resist and fight back against the owners. In the meantime, those in Parliament (like Mr. Gradgrind, who winds up elected to office) work for the benefit of the country but not its people. In short, industrialization creates an environment in which people cease to treat either others or themselves as people. Even the unions, the groups of factory workers who fight against the injustices of the factory owners, are not shown in a good light. Stephen Blackpool, a poor worker at Bounderby's factory, is rejected by his fellow workers for his refusal to join the union because of a promise made to the sweet, good woman he loves, Rachael. His factory union then treats him as an outcast.

The remedy to industrialism and its evils in the novel is found in Sissy Jupe, the little girl who was brought up among circus performers and fairy tales. Letting loose the imagination of children lets loose their hearts as well, and, as Sissy does, they can combat and undo what a Gradgrind education produces.

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Industrialism and Its Evils Quotes in Hard Times

Below you will find the important quotes in Hard Times related to the theme of Industrialism and Its Evils.
Book 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.

Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we get our first good look at Coketown, the setting for most of the novel. Dickens uses his descriptions of the town to criticize the path his country took in the 19th century. During the 19th century, Britain pursued a series of policies that transformed its towns into industrial powerhouses, devoted to producing goods at factories. Such factories made Britain immensely wealthy, but also crippled most of its population: men and women were horribly injured in factories, families lived in poverty, and the country's cities themselves were made exceptionally dirty and ugly (although Dickens describes this ugliness in a rather racist way here).

Coketown, we can see, was supposed to be a beautiful brick town--i.e., industrialization was supposed to make it a utopia. Instead, factories have made it hideously ugly, a clear example of the limits of mechanization.

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Book 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

Stephen looked older, but he had had a hard life. It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen's case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else's thorns in addition to his own.

Related Characters: Stephen Blackpool
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Stephen Blackpool. Stephen is an important character--critics have pointed out that he's the only important character in all of Dickens who actually works at a factory. Dickens's portrait of Blackpool is tragic to the extreme: Blackpool's life as a laborer has left his body horribly scarred. Dickens clarifies his point with an interesting analogy: if the average human being has his share of pain and happiness, then Stephen has had his happiness stolen away from him, and in its place received an extra share of pain.

Critics often point to the passage as an example of Dickens's socialist ideas. Stephen, one could argue, has been robbed of the fruits of his own labors by wealthy capitalists like Bounderby: instead of being adequately rewarded for all the hard work he does, he's underpaid and overworked.

Book 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

‘Well, sister of mine,' said Tom, ‘when you say that, you are near my thoughts. We might be so much oftener together — mightn't we? Always together, almost — mightn't we? It would do me a great deal of good if you were to make up your mind to I know what, Loo. It would be a splendid thing for me. It would be uncommonly jolly!'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Years have now passed, and Tom and Louisa have grown into subdued, soulless people who don't know how to love or express emotion. Tom knows that Louisa loves him, however, if nobody else. In this passage. Tom is clearly trying to manipulate his sister into helping him out. We're not told exactly what Tom is asking his sister to do (marry Bounderby, as we'll later see), but the bigger point is that Tom is using his sister's affection for him as leverage. Tom, we can surmise, doesn't really love his sister that much--his childhood with Gradgrind has left him so emotionally impoverished that his only source of pleasure is controlling other people's feelings. He is, one could say, the Frankenstein's monster that Gradgrind's education program has created.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

‘You can finish off what you're at,' said Mr Bounderby, with a meaning nod, 'and then go elsewhere.'

‘Sir, yo know weel,' said Stephen expressively, ‘that if I canna get work wi' yo, I canna get it elsewheer.'

The reply was, ‘What I know, I know; and what you know, you know. I have no more to say about it.'

Related Characters: Josiah Bounderby (speaker), Stephen Blackpool (speaker)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mr. Bounderby fires Stephen for refusing to inform about the rising union in the factory. Stephen isn't an outspoken supporter of the union, but he's loyal enough to keep from "ratting" about the union to Bounderby. Bounderby callously tells Stephen that he can finish his work and leave the factory. Even after Stephen explains that he'll never be able to get another job after he's fired, Bounderby ignores him.

Bounderby, we can be pretty sure by now, is a heartless character. He thinks of his employees as animals, or cogs in a big machine--to be replaced at any time. Bounderby represents the dark side of the emphasis on facts and figures--because he's predisposed to think in terms of numbers, and therefore profits, he has no compunction about ruining Stephen's career, or even about viewing him as a real, suffering human being. 

Book 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

The blustrous Bounderby crimsoned and swelled to such an extent on hearing these words, that he seemed to be, and probably was, on the brink of a fit. With his very ears a bright purple shot with crimson, he pent up his indignation, however, and said…

Related Characters: Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mr. Bounderby confronts his old friend Mr. Gradgrind. He demands to know what's happened to Louisa. Calmly, Mr. Gradgrind explains that Louisa needs some time to herself--she's trapped in a loveless marriage to Bounderby, and needs to tend to her emotional side before she can return to Coketown. Bounderby is furious to hear such words form his old friend. His entire face convulses in rage and indignation.

Bounderby is furious with Gradgrind for a number of reasons. Gradgrind's speech to Bounderby about the importance of preserving the marriage echoes the speech that Bounderby gave to Stephen Blackpool about his own loveless marriage--the tables have turned. Furthermore, Bounderby seems furious with Gradgrind for focusing too strongly on emotions and the Heart, at the expense of facts and the Head. Gradgrind has "switched teams," and Bounderby is on his own. It goes almost without saying that watching Bounderby's ridiculous rage is extremely satisfying--he's a cruel, callous person, and now he's getting his comeuppance.