The nineteenth century saw rapid development and reform across the whole of the country; with the Industrial Revolution transforming life in Britain. For working class women life was an endless struggle of passivity and labour; as soon as they were old enough they worked on farms, in factories or as servants to the middle classes (Lambert, 2009). For women in general, life was oppressive; constantly overshadowed by the male gender who were considered dominant leaders. In a Victorian household, the male was head of the family; his wife and children respected him and obeyed him without question. This critical analysis of two nineteenth century novels - Hard Times by Charles Dickens and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, will discuss the representation of the two female protagonists in the context of the Victorian period and question whether they do indeed portray an endless struggle for survival and independence.
When considering representation, the ways in which the authors choose to portray their characters can have a great impact on their accessibility. A firm character basis is the foundation for any believable novel. It is arguable that for an allegorical novel - in which Hard Times takes its structure, Dickens uses an unusually complex character basis. The characters in Hard Times combine both the simplistic characteristics of a character developed for allegorical purposes, as well as the concise qualities of ‘real’ people (McLucas, 1995). These characters are portrayed to think and feel like we as readers do and react to their situations in the same way that most of us would. Such attributes are what give the characters life and allow us to relate to their decisions.
In Hard Times Charles Dickens portrays Louisa Gradgrind as a realistic character who faces conflict from the start of her life. Throughout the unfolding of the plot, Louisa encounters three major psychological conflicts in the form of three different men - Mr. Gradgrind, Mr. Bounderby, and Tom Gradgrind. Each male playing a pivotal role in removing more and more of her independence and making her struggle for individuality even harder. Instead of being her own person and expressing her own feelings, Louisa is forced into passivity and constantly brought under the control of the male.
From birth, Louisa is not allowed to express herself or her individuality because her father is seemingly obsessed with the tangibles of fact. Mr. Gradgrind suppresses Louisa's imagination so all she can do is wonder. An example of such suppression is shown with reference to the circus (16). This is the first time both Louisa and Tom have seen such a sight and so, are intrigued. When asked why they were there, Louisa curiously answers, "Wanted to see what it was like" (17), a response any normal child would have. Her "starved imagination" (17) is curious and she is desperate to experience that that is fiction.
As Louisa becomes a young lady, her father again forces his dominance upon her and...