In Hard Times, the ideas behind Utilitarianism, statistical economics, and the way they may shape government and educational policy all run together to present a bleak future for the children raised under them. Those who idealize these social sciences imagine a logical world run according to the dictates of the marketplace. In this novel, Dickens presents us with some children raised and educated under this system. Their emotions are repressed, their imaginations starved, and their creativity discouraged. As a result, they grow into adults that don't know how be moral and are unable to understand or emotionally connect with one anyone.
Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Utilitarianism and Classical Economics
- Is there a place in the plot where it's actually helpful to have a facts-only, non-emotional, non-creative outlook? Is any character able to take advantage of this situation in this way?
- Would it be better (in the world as Dickens has written it) if only men were taught "facts, facts, facts" and women were allowed emotional and creative education? What would be different and what would stay the same? What about vice versa?
- When Louisa thinks about the workers as a big mass without human characteristics, we are clearly meant to fault her. What about when the narrator describes the workers as being all the same, with the same lives, and the same routines? Does the narrator get away with things that characters cannot? Why?
- A lot of effort goes into de-mythologizing the circus world: it's actually hard work, the performers are shown being injured and getting too old to do their tricks. If the idea is that escapism and the imagination are key, why devote so much time to this behind the scenes look?
Chew on This
Louisa's education is not actually at fault for her fate. The real problem is that the rest of the world hasn't caught up to Gradgrind's progressive, almost revolutionary way of educating girls.
Bounderby is clearly a terrible boss, but we are not shown a different, better model. Thus, capitalism demands that large-scale entrepreneurs regard their workers as he does his, however distasteful.