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Condition Of England Novel English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2522 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Coketown, the city of fact, foreshadows the emergence of a monstrous mass urban society based on rationalism, anonymity and dehumanisation. The dominant feature of the town is its inherent ugliness. Its inhabitants lack individuality and are the product of an inhuman materialistic society.

“It was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves forever and ever, and never got uncoiled…where the piston of the steam engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant a state of melancholy madness…inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work and to whom everyday was the same as yesterday and tomorrow.” (Dickens

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The social commentary of Hard Times is quite clear. Dickens is concerned with the conditions of the urban labourers and the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism. He exposes the exploitation of the working class by unfeeling industrialists and the damaging consequences of propagating factual knowledge at the expense of feeling and imagination. However although Dickens is critical about Utilitarianism, he cannot find a better way of safeguarding social justice than through ethical means. Dickens can only offer good heartedness and individual charity, like other writers of the condition of England question; he was better equipped to examine the symptoms of the disease than to suggest a possible cure.

Hard Times proves that fancy is essential for human happiness and in this aspect it is one of the best morally uplifting novels. Dickens avoided propagating employer paternalism in the manner of Gaskell and strongly opposed commoditisation of labour in Victorian England.

Hard times is in fact an attack on the Manchester School of economics, which supported laisse-faire and promoted a distorted view of Bentham’s ethics.

Hard times presents a critical view of the political systems and events which society was based on. In the 1800s, England became revolutionary with the Industrial Revolution and the new class system, which brought more citizens that are middle class and their ideals into the government.

Through Hard Times Dickens criticizes the way the government chose to run the country via the Laissez-Faire capitalist system. As a humanitarian Dickens argued that no matter what class a person is in, they are still a person and should be afforded the benefit of having basic human rights.

Dickens also challenged the drudgery of education through the parody of Gradgrind who continuously demands facts be instilled into the children. The education system is the first flaw mentioned founded on the Utilitarian theory – the greatest good for the greatest number”Mr Gradgrind also based his own beliefs on this theory and has made it the foundation and philosophy of his school. The result is that the students in his school are seen as human beings, but as people who are born to be filled with facts.

Gradgrind’s system of education is also a reflection of the oppression with which children are subjected to within workhouses. Dickens draws on personal experience of his incarceration into a workhouse when he was 12 years old, and creates a parable of the two institutions, education and industry.

This relates to the belief of Thomas Carlyle, who was also a utilitarian. Mr Gradgrind even shows this through his persona “he seemed like some kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts and prepared to blow them clear out of the regions of childhood in one discharge”

Dickens argument is that even if filling children’s minds with facts and statistics, seems like the right action to take, the results can be disastrous, because it can end up killing the natural imagination, and can prevent a child of having a normal childhood. This is a weakness of the utilitarian education system, which Dickens points out, but h fails to recognize the good points of the system.

Dickens presents a very negative view of the Industrial Revolution, because the people were not getting the rights they were entitled to and suggests that the poverty the lower class are subjected to is due to a lack of love within society. Similarly, Dickens also suggests that such exploitation can be diminished by love that is symbolized through the union of Sissy and Louisa “let me lay this head of mine upon a living heart”

The owner of the factories would fine anybody who would take a little rest, even if pregnant. Dickens message to the public was that the people who were working in the factories didn’t have any rights and he demonstrated this through Hard Times, the day after it was serialised in a magazine part owned by Dickens, there were strikes against the factory owners for higher wages, shorter hours etc Dickens again realizes the bad points of the Industrial Revolution and fails to see that the country was now able to get access to items which was produced more rapidly than before and then people were able to buy the products with a cheaper price because of mass production.

Victorian England at the time was callous with people so self absorbed and ignorant that they assumed the systems they had implemented to look after the poor was indeed the best and most humane,

Dickens also sees a weakness in the factories with a humanitarian point of view, he believes that the workers shouldn’t be generalized together as ‘hands’ because when they are talked about in a group, the workers don’t seem to have the rights to which they are entitled Dickens also noted that the Industrial Revolution doesn’t account for the mechanics of the human body.

Dickens shows elements of Laisse-faire capitalism, as although this type of capitalism is meant to give the people more freedom, the freedom of choice, the freedom of non-government intervention. However, in a sense this does not give the people any more freedom of choice. For example, if a person was a factory worker, they would have the freedom to quit if they wanted to but they still wouldn’t be free because the government does not give any benefits and to keep food on the table, the person would now have to look for a new job, but it would have the same conditions and the same boss who would be trying their best to obtain as much as they could get, this is mirrored in Hard Times when Stephen Blackpool is fired from his job just because Bounderby wanted to show the amount of power he had over his employees.

“But his factory is a secret place, his work is noiseless, and his hands are mute”

Stephen Blackpool is used by Dickens to show his views about the Laisse-faire system, as is Bounderby.

During the Industrial Revolution, there was change within society. A new middle class emerged and was defined as higher than the working class but lower than the higher class such as the aristocracy in Hard Times, Dickens doesn’t show much criticism but shows his views throughout the novel, that the middle class should be fighting for the rights of the people who don’t have any rights nor can stand up for themselves.

Many people from the middle class started to emerge helping the lower class people, by starting trade unions and some people started to help by becoming a member of parliament so that they could now pass laws for the working class. The changes within the class structure are not mentioned much in Hard Times, only when Dickens introduces the characters.

Dickens shows what class rules through the characters of Mr Gradgrind and Mr Bounderby who have power over the working class and their nature is one of greed.

In conclusion, Utilitarian system, the Industrial Revolution and Laisesex-faire capitalism is harshly criticizes by Dickens because these systems do not allow for compassion and the nurturing of the aspect of a human beings imagination and self-esteem. One positive aspect of Dickens criticism is that he does not criticize the middle class because he believes that people who are privileged should be defending the people who do not have such privilege. Dickens believes that if actions are taken to include the compassion of humanity, the education system and the rights of people who are less privileged than the country’s economy would be in a better state.

In the Victorian era, there is a great stratification between the working class and the middle class, “two nations of England, the rich and the poor” (Disraeli)

To protest this unequal distribution throughout society the workers of industrial towns began to strike,

“The Preston lock out of 1853-4 has long been recognised as lying behind the scenes of industrial unrest in Hard Times and North and South” (Flint 50)

Strikes such as the one that Thornton, the protagonist and mill owner in North and South faces in Milton City as he reduces the wages of the workers due to pressure coming from American competition. To compound issues he does not give an explanation to the workers for this wage reduction.

He does however explain to his love, Margaret his reasons

“Do you give your servants reasons for your expenditure, or your economy in the use of your own money? We, the owners of capital have a right to choose what we will do with it (Gaskell 468)

Margaret however does try to build some empathy with the workers as she tries to explain the situation of the capital holders and farmers to the workers during the strike.

As money became short so too did the supply of food with the workers meals often been replaced by drinks of hot tea as this gave the body the impression it had eaten due to the caffeine and sugar contained within the tea. Malnutrition became a huge problem as the main sources of nutrition such as bread and potatoes become a luxury many could not afford. Tea symbolises the division of the classes with the poor drinking it to survive as it is a source of energy and cheaper than alcohol. The middle class however drink the tea as a luxury commodity and would take time to drink their tea, which is significant as Victorian society based a lot of social judgement on how one would take their meals/drinks.

Throughout the novel Gaskell uses dialect speech to tell us that she knows the world about which she writes and that she will be our guide into its problems.

Margaret Gaskell empowers the ‘weaker sex’ and regardless of the social standing of each character, she examines the role of women in Victorian England, industrialization and the effects it has on class divisions.

Gaskell, like Dickens, hoped to draw attention to the Condition of England novel. Throughout the novel, Margaret must come to terms with the class system. Her relationship with both Higgins and Bessy teach her that people are still people regardless social status they hold. Each man is special in all regards. As Margaret demonstrated

“Margaret the churchwomen, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm”

North and South also shows the nineteenth century concern of the crisis in the church.

Gaskell demonstrates that although there are class divides within Victorian society it is still possible for these people to communicate with one another and even make decisions together. For Gaskell communication between the classes is the only way to achieve harmony between them. Although class struggle cannot be distinguished totally, it can be reduced for the mutual benefit of each class.

Gaskell suggests that communication is the only way to abolish conflicts and boundaries between the classes.

Dickens was also concerned with the plight of women and their struggle to survive in a competitive world. He raises issues such as prostitution, which was regarded in Victorian society as a serious social illness. Victorians strongly believed that a women’s place was at home, thus she was known as the ‘angel of the house’. Fallen women who lost their virginity or were impregnated before marriage would not be tolerated.

Dickens mirrors this Victorian attitude within his writing and in so doing, he subtly criticises Victorian society for its marginalisation and exclusion of women and its intolerance of the ‘fallen women’ and attacks a society that allows such things to happen whilst pretending to be the model of respectability.

Both Dickens and Gaskell represented the underprivileged in society as well as attacking the oppressive nature of Victorian society and its failure to assist the poor. Dickens works have also proved to be a major role player in the implementation of social reform in Britain.

Aware of their ability to reach out to middle class s readers and motivated by their own strong sense of social conscience, Gaskell and Dickens wrote in both an informative and moving way about the working class and the struggles they faced in society, struggles they faced whilst being voiceless and powerless

Gaskell and Dickens “sidestep the case for a radical change to class structures, relying instead on the reconciling plots of marriage and reunited families.” (Tucker 83)

Relating back to Dickens’ aim to “strike the heaviest blow in my power,” he wished to educate readers about the working conditions of some of the factories in the industrial towns of Manchester, and Preston. Relating to this also, Dickens wished to confront the assumption that prosperity runs parallel to morality, a notion that is systematically deconstructed in this novel through his portrayal of the moral monsters, Mr. Bounderby, and James Harthouse. Dickens was also campaigning for the importance of imagination in life, and not for people’s life to be reduced to a collection of material facts and statistical analyses. Dickens’ favorable portrayal of the Circus, which he describes as caring so “little for Plain Fact”, is an example of this.

Dickens exploited the ‘Newgate Novel’ genre to “highlight the hideous injustices of the social system, especially as hardship became institutionalized under the provisions of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.” (Giddingh s, page 45)

Gaskell like Dickens was “writing the kind of novel that asked all the questions and was at least aware of a whole range of possible answers.” (Arthur Pollard, page 193)

However, it has to be said, “From their middle-class world-view, neither writer could possibly see the class system as intrinsically oppressive and exploitative, a social construction that might need deconstruction.” (DeVine, page 5)


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