Critical Essays Dickens' Philosophy and Style


Charles Dickens, required to write Hard Times in twenty sections to be published over a period of five months, filled the novel with his own philosophy and symbolism. Dickens expounds his philosophy in two ways: through straight third-person exposition and through the voices of his characters. His approach to reality is allegorical in nature; his plot traces the effect of rational education on Gradgrind's two children. He presents two problems in the text of his novel; the most important one is that of the educational system and what divides the school of Facts and the circus school of Fancy. The conflicts of the two worlds of the schoolroom and the circus represent the adult attitudes toward life. While the schoolroom dehumanizes the little scholars, the circus, all fancy and love, restores humanity. The second problem deals with the economic relationships of labor and management. Here one sees that Dickens lets the educational system be dominated by, rather than serve, the economic system. His philosophy, expounded through his characters, is best summarized by Sleary, who says that people should make the best of life, not the worst of it.

Dickens' symbolism takes such forms as Coketown's being a brick jungle, strangled in sameness and smoke, the belching factories as elephants in this jungle, the smoke as treacherous snakes, and the children as little "vessels" which must be filled. His symbolism also becomes allegorical as he utilizes biblical connotation in presenting the moral structure of the town and the people.

In addition to dialogue, straight narration, and description, Dickens employs understatement to convey through satire the social, economic, and educational problems and to propose solutions for these problems. His often tongue-in-cheek statements balance the horror of the scenery by the absurdity of humor, based on both character and theme.