Analysis of Why Fact and Fancy Are Both Necessary in Charles Dickens' Hard Times
Fact and Fancy in Hard Times
Coketown is a monotonous town of machinery and tall chimneys. There is a sense of sameness in the town: “It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another.” A town so sacred to fact should progress smoothly, yet residents of Coketown “never knew what they wanted” and were “eternally dissatisfied” (33). One of the main characters in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind, enthusiastically teaches facts to his students: “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” His philosophy of fact and rationale makes his pupils and children machine-like. Hard Times demonstrates, through Mr. Gradgrind’s dynamic characterization, that a fulfilling life cannot be lived by fact alone.
Mr. Gradgrind is a man of “realities, facts, and calculations” (12). At his school, which he intends to be an educational model, he only teaches facts: “You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!” Described as a “galvanizing apparatus” who is “charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imagination that were to be stormed away,” Mr. Gradgrind pours gallons of facts into “the little pitchers before him” (13) until they are full to the brim.
Mr. Gradgrind’s own children are, indeed, raised on facts. The five young Gradgrinds are “lectured at from their tenderest years; coursed, like little hares” (18). As youngsters, the first object with which they had an association was a “large blackboard with a dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures on it” (18). No little Gradgrind had ever read a fairy-tale or sung a silly children’s jingle. Instead of a playroom, the children had cabinets in various departments of science.
When Louisa was younger, Mr. Gradgrind overheard her start a conversation with her brother by saying, “Tom, I wonder”—upon which he replies sternly: “Louisa, never wonder!” (56). Years later, he catches two of his children, Thomas and Louisa, peeping through a hole to watch the circus, and he sternly disciplines them. Thomas and Louisa are not typical, happy, energetic young adults:
There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes on a blind dace...