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Historical Background The late 18 th and early 19 th centuries were an era of great change in Europe. The Industrial revolution happened in many countries, but was initially focused on Britain. The Industrial Revolution centered on the production of iron and the steam engine. Later, railways and increasingly mechanized forms of manufacturing would develop. The urban population increased rapidly and cities were transformed into centers of industrial production. They became overcrowded, as people moved from rural areas.
A combination of coal-fired stoves and poor sanitation made the air heavy and foul-smelling. Immense amounts of raw sewage was dumped straight into the Thames River in London. Even Royals were not immune from the stench when Queen Victoria occupied Buckingham Palace her apartments were ventilated through the common sewers, a fact that was not disclosed until some 40 years later. For all the economic expansion of the Industrial Revolution, living conditions among many of the workers and the poor were appalling. Children as young as five were often set to work begging or sweeping chimneys. It was not uncommon for employers to use children as cheap labour.
For some women, industrialisation meant independence, but for the majority, it meant the necessity of being employed and enduring the hardships of dreadful working conditions. Women were often subjugated. Even though their productive efficiency was only slightly lower than that of men (especially with the invention of machines), their wages were often only one third of that earned by men. Men assumed superiority over women. The working and living conditions were often atrocious. Working days were long, and wages low, as employers often exploited their workers and increased their profits by lowering the cost of production by paying meagre wages and neglecting pollution control.
Safety measures were often ignored and workers were put out of jobs by the introduction of machines that created a surplus of labour. The rate of accidents was very high. A handicapped worker was doomed to extreme poverty, as there were no social security or insurance payments. The New Poor Law of 1834 was based on the principle of less eligibility, which stipulated that the condition of the able-bodied pauper on relief (it did not apply to the sick, aged, or children) be less eligible? that is, less desirable, less favorable? than the condition of the independent laborer.
This reasoning was absolutely correct from the scientific and the Utilitarian point of view, but it rejected any emotional considerations. Men and women were materially very poor by contemporary standards and were uncomplaining in their poverty. They led lives of hard work but rarely expected to find fulfilment. Family and interpersonal relationships were difficult and their intellectual and cultural horizons were strictly limited.
Very few concerned themselves with national events or politics, or even with local trade union or labour movements. They were uninterested in material acquisition or achievement as such and were not socially mobile. There was no consciousness of class beyond a recognition that the masters constituted a different order of society into which they would never penetrate. Their aspirations were modest: to be respected by their fellows; to see their families growing up and making their way in the world, and to die without debt and without sin. Trade unions did appear to introduce and protect workers? rights, but in the initial stages of industrialisation, the workers were not protected.
New classes emerged during the Industrial Revolution: the working class that laboured in the factories, mines and mills, and the middle class that controlled them. As discussed above, the middle class (the owners of the factories) was concerned chiefly with their profits. The Church of England became heavily dependent on donations from the middle class and was effectively promoting their interests. In the government the workers had no voice and neither did women. The middle classes were clearly able to advance their own interests. Against this background, a concept of democracy was being evolved and considered as a form of government.
Democracy has similarities with the principle of Utilitarianism, which is a doctrine that teaches that the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct. That is, what the majority agrees to is correct. Bentham (1748 - 1832), an economist and social philosopher introduced the idea of? Utilitarianism? . He stated that? happiness?
or? pain? could be measured quantitatively, which gave Utilitarianism its scientific basis. Because of this, in a Utilitarian world only facts are believable, as universally acceptable and tangible pieces of evidence. Imagination and feelings were disregarded as irrelevant and so were the minority groups who for some reasons did not agree with the majority. Purely theoretically, it can be proven that Utilitarianism poses a threat to humanity.
For example, if one person must suffer to make other people happy, then in the Utilitarian terms it is acceptable to make that person suffer. A classical case would be gladiator games, whereby watching a few people kill one another makes a larger audience somewhat happier. According to the doctrine of Utilitarianism, gladiator games are morally right, even though they seem a morbid violation of humanitarian principles. Moreover, since Utilitarianism assumes that what is good for majority is good for everyone, individual preferences are ignored. The majority answers are always right. Minorities are subjugated and oppressed, instead of being asked for their opinions.
Their feelings are ignored and society becomes increasingly practical, and driven by economics. The theory fails to acknowledge any individual rights that could not be violated for the sake of the greater good. Adam Smith as a Follower of the Utilitarianism Many prominent people living in that time adopted the theories of Adam Smith (1723 - 1790), an economist and a philosopher, who believed that self-interest should be the sole regulating force in the economy. He argued that social welfare and government intervention were not needed (the laissez-faire doctrine).
He evaluated societies in general terms, without singling out individuals and consistently resorted to Utilitarianism for policy advice. ? The patriot who lays down his life for? this society, appears to act with the most exact propriety? appears to view himself in the light in which the impartial spectator naturally and necessarily views him, as but one of the multitude? bound at all times to sacrifice and devote himself to the safety, to the service, and even to the glory of the greater number. The rapidly changing society and its ideology affected the literary works of the time.
Many of Dickens? contemporaries, for example, William Blake, condemned the Industrial Revolution and the idea of Utilitarianism it brought. Dickens felt very negative about the Utilitarian principles, as he felt that they served to destroy individuality and brought about a social malaise. This view is clearly voiced out in his novel? Hard Times? , published in 1854. ? Hard Times?
and Utilitarianism Coketown, as described in? Hard Times? is a construct of a typical industrial town, many of which were sited around the newly founded factories. It may be a fictional location of the industrial age, but it serves Dickens? purpose of presenting Utilitarianism at work. Many of the details of Coketown are based on truths about industrial towns, but Dickens slightly exaggerates them to focus the readers?
attention on the points he would like to criticise. It was believed that higher industrial output would increase the wealth of the country and therefore be desirable. Because of this Coketown exists solely for its industrial output and provides no comfort for its working class citizens. Everything inside it is extremely practical; no precious resources are wasted beautifying it, as they do not lead to an increase in industrial output.
Dickens? contempt for Utilitarianism is conveyed through the opening description of the town. The colours of the town are black and red? red brick covered in ash from the factories.
Even on the surface, Dickens associates Coketown with? the painted face of a savage? ? the implication is that like a? savage? , industrialisation is cruel, barbaric and uncultured. On a deeper level, this image links to the colour symbolism that runs through the novel.
Dickens associated richness of colour to the preservation of life and individuality; neither black, nor white are considered as colours, and hence, Coketown rejects the idea of individuality and identity. It is robbed of it by the Utilitarianism that is is manifested in industrialisation. The lack of identity is further emphasised by all public inscriptions in the town being written in? black and white? . The? inscriptions? ?
the voice of the town are devoid of any identity. Everything in the town? a river, a canal is of dark colour, firstly, because of pollution, secondly, at symbolic level, because the town lacks an identity. Dickens describes it as being? severely workout? but significantly it is also in a?
state of melancholic madness? , because everything in the town is dedicated to production. Coketown? s buildings are faceless. With bitter irony, Dickens describes the confusion between identifying the?
infirmary? and the? jail? ? utilitarian practicality has deprived each of them of its own air and made the process of healing in an?
infirmary? be of little difference from serving a sentence in a? jail? . Even the Church is not different from a?
warehouse? ? a building used to store the products of the industrial process. The Church was affected by industrialisation and utilitarianism. Its decorations are compared by Dickens to the? wooden legs? of a piano?
items manufactured in great amounts, looking totally alike and hence lacking any identity. The destructive effect of Utilitarianism seemingly affected even the spiritual aspect of life. The picture is made more complete by the addition of description of the streets? ? very like one another? and the final stroke of the brush is Dickens?
epithet: ? Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of town; fact, fact, fact everywhere in the immaterial? This summarises the Utilitarianism that the town is drenched in? everything here serves a material purpose. The need for skilled labour produced the need to educate people. However this education was not for the development of personality, but for the benefit of the whole society.
This is why the education that existed in those days adopted an impersonal approach and students were taught in large groups, when a teacher did not even know their names. ? Hard Times? deals with Utilitarian education as well. Students are taught to be extremely practical and education is based solely on facts and the Utilitarian principle: right answers must be universally right. The process of memorizing as many facts as possible is referred to as? educational cramming?
and this is one of the less grotesque metaphors found in this novel. A teacher is compared to a? cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them [the children to be educated] clean out of the regions of childhood? . Children have no names and are referred to by index numbers. The most successful products of this system, for example, Better, have a white complexion?
an indication that education has literally stripped them of individuality. A chapter, where this process is described is named? Murdering the Innocents? which refers to replacing the rich personalities of children with cold and impersonal utilitarian attitudes. In his description of the Coketown community, Dickens highlights the fact that it is not a healthy society. The workers have no escape from their problems.
People resort to alcohol and drugs; crime is rampant and there is no counseling for these people. The middle class only impose harsher restrictions on them and view them as utilitarian elements, not as people, thus only promoting social problems further. It is important to note that all of the imagery associated with Utilitarianism has negative and often violent connotations. The town itself is associated with a?
face of a savage? , a teacher is related to a? cannon? , the bells of a utilitarian church drive the? sick and nervous mad? ? There is no comfort in Utilitarianism. Such is the Utilitarian society. Coketown resembles London or any other Northern industrialised town.
Dickens also goes on to show the readers the effects of Utilitarianism at a personal level. These utilitarian characters are Thomas Gradgrind and Bounderby. Both are materialists and firmly believe in the superiority of facts to imagination or? idle fancy? .
Both belong to the middle class. Bounderby shares many features with Adam Smith? another Utilitarian. He pushes his ideas forward out of self-interest. He wants to maximise production of his factory and he wants to improve his own life by marrying Louisa.
For that, he is ready to sacrifice anything, including what belongs to others. For example, he is afraid that Louisa might be influenced by Sissy June? s vibrant imagination and therefore tries to keep the girls apart through depriving Sissy of education, even though she wants it. Bounderby is a gross caricature of Utilitarianism. Bounderby is boastful and selfish. He does not care about the needs of other people.
And since he is in power, he is obeyed. Here, Dickens satirists the idea that a society can be regulated by self-interest. Dickens invites his readers to imagine people like Bounderby in power. Thomas Gradgrind is a different matter. He has adopted Utilitarianism because he believed it was in the interests of the people.
His is a genuine mistake, as he did not try to advance his own interest by suppressing those of others. He believes that Utilitarianism is the? One Thing Needful? and he does actually seek to help people.
He wants to tell Sissy, the girl from a local circus about her father abandoning her, because he believes that knowing the truth is the best option. He does not intend to hurt her feelings. Dickens feels that many people simply abused the theory of Utilitarianism to indulge their egoism. That is why he is more tolerant of cases like that of Gradgrind, who at least acts out of the best motives. In Coketown, women are oppressed by men, because they are perceived as impractical and their work does not benefit the society as much as that of men, as men are physically stronger. Therefore, women have less value in this society.
Mrs. Gradgrind has no voice and no opinion of her own. Even physically, she is always ill and subdued, especially by Bounderby. Another woman is Rachael, who is unable to find happiness trapped as she is by the circumstances of Coketown. In this situation she has much in common with the man that she loves: Stephen Blackpool, he too is an oppressed member of the working class, who is first deprived of his emotional comfort and then is forced to leave the town. He is charged with a crime he has never committed, but his voice is not heard?
it is drowned by young Tom? s claims, a voice of the middle class. Stephen Blackpool is the only worker described in details in? Hard Times?
and like many other characters in the novel is representative of his class. The workers are referred to as? the Hands? ? that is, the Utilitarian society is only interested in their ability to work Workers are described? clattering? home and this reminds of machinery, which has become a part of them.
Stephen? s own? iron-grey? hair is associated with the Industrial Revolution, which made heavy use of iron.
His hair is colourless? his personality was replaced and destroyed by machinery and utilitarianism. Indeed, life had? its roses and thorns? ?
the Industrial Revolution and the Utilitarianism had their benefits and disadvantages. But, as said in the novel, someone else? particularly the employers of the middle class possessed the? roses? ? the benefits? the workers too were supposed to receive.
Dickens accuses Utilitarianism of being responsible for the social malaise; the destruction of personality; for robbing people of probably the only real valuable thing they have? their individuality; for oppressing the women and the working class; and finally of depriving the children of a special stage of their life? their childhood. Dickens feels that Utilitarianism is wrong.
At the end of the novel, all of the Utilitarian characters suffer a crisis. However, the unselfish ones are rescued by people who have preserved their humanity amidst all the destruction and violence. Sissy June, a healer (which is symbolized by the bottle of? nine oils? she carries with her) helps Louisa, the daughter of Mr. Gradgrind, to live through her crisis.
This is Dickens? way of showing that Utilitarianism tends to blow up and explode like a? balloon? ? another image associated with the boastful and self-important Bounderby, whose domination over the others burst like a balloon, when his true origins are revealed. Dickens shows his readers that Utilitarianism is based on unsound principles, which might get a person to the top, but will not keep him there. Perhaps, he is trying to predict a crisis of the utilitarian society, but his book seems to work more on personal level.
The fact that humanity rescues the? lost? people shows, that there is? Another Thing Needful? in this society. The society needs an understanding of human feelings.
According to Dickens. The Victorian society needs to recognise the significance of human emotion. This philosophy is put simply through the words of Salary, the master of the circus? ? people must be amused? . Materialism and practicality are impractical in the long run after all.
Concluding Remarks: Is the Utilitarian nature of? Hard Times? relevant to Asian Society today? Dickens lived through an era of great social change. He witnessed urbanisation, the improvement in transport and communications and he saw the industrial changes that transformed manufacturing processes.
There is a striking similarity between the society described in? Hard Times? and today? s modern Asian society; in the way that both are examples of rapidly changing societies. Both societies are centred on revolutionary change. In the case of?
Hard Times? it was the industrialisation associated with coal and iron: in today? s Asia the driving force is the I. T.
Revolution and globalisation. As the Industrial Revolution was triggered and later symbolized by the steam engine, the I. T Revolution is the result of the invention and application of the microchip. Although the Industrial Revolution is defined only as a process of rapid mechanisation of production, it had far-reaching social implications. Railways gave people more mobility and at the same time helped to unite the different parts of the country and promote a sense of national identity. Factories were responsible for the formation of a new social class?
the workers. Likewise, in the case of I. T. revolution new jobs have been created instead of the old ones that have been made obsolete by technology. For example, the software for tuning a piano converts a process that traditionally took three hours into one that takes twenty minutes.
There is software for payrolls, for inventory control, for delivery schedules, and for all the other routine processes of a business. Now, people that are able to program this software are in demand, just like in the days of the Industrial Revolution when people who made the machines work were in great demand and those whose work could be done by the machines became outdated. The building of the railways in the era of the Industrial Revolution caused the world to shrink. In the modern world the Information highways brought about by the I. T. Revolution that led to globalisation has almost erased national borders, but the question remains?
Who benefits from all these changes? Has modern Asian society developed a conscience? Or are the same problems still evident that Dickens recognized in his attack on Utilitarianism? The same problems are still there, but the scope has changed as the exploitation now occurs not on a class basis within one country, but rather between international boundaries through multi-national companies. The Industrial Revolution worsened the living conditions of the poorer groups of people, compared to those of the middle class? that is, the rich-poor gap increased.
The I. T. Revolution works more on a more global level, with the rich-poor gap now being measured in international terms. This is unfortunate if you are not a wealthy country as poorer countries have become in relative terms even poorer as they do not have the technological base from which the exponential growth takes place. Families in the third world are still forced to endure harsh conditions in countries that are heavily dependent on child labour. There is little difference between the exploitation of Stephen Blackpool and the employees of large multi national companies that pay low wages in Pakistan and Indonesia to keep wage costs down.
Thus, in a way? Hard Times? is applicable in this context. The developed countries are the prospering middle class and the developing ones are the exploited working class who carries out all dangerous and harmful production for minimal financial reward. ? Hard Times?
is a novel that has Utilitarianism at its heart and it serves as an amusing and poignant satire of the social conditions that the Industrial Revolution brought about. There are lessons that can be learned that we would still do well to heed today. Bibliography: Himmelfarb, Gertrude. A professor of history at the Graduate school of the City University of New York. Welfare and Charity: Lessons from Victorian England. At URL: web Oxford University Press, 1989.
Introduction to Charles Dickens Hard Times. Pp. vii-xxii Utilitarianism. at URL: web Encyclopedia: Utilitarianism.
At URL: web P. F. A professor of social science at Claremont Graduate School. Beyond the Information Revolution. At URL: web W. H...
Utilitarianism in Adam Smith? s? Theory of Moral Sentiments? . At URL: web
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