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Significance Of Emotional Education In Dickens' Novel, Hard Times

1869 words - 7 pages

Set in the ever shifting world of the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times begins with a description of a utilitarian paradise created by the illustrious and "eminently practical" Mr. Gradgrind, a world that follows a prescribed set of logically laid-out facts. However, readers soon realize that Gradgrind's modern utopia is only a simulacrum, belied by the damnation of lives devoid of elements that feed the heart and soul, as well as the mind. As the years progress, the weaknesses of Gradgrind's carefully constructed system become painfully apparent, especially in his children Louisa and Tom, and in the poor workers employed under one Mr. Josiah Bounderby, a wealthy factory owner who is a subscriber to Gradgrind's system. Dickens, through the shattering of Gradgrind's utilitarian world, tells us that no methods, not even constant oppression and abuse, can defeat and overcome the basic nature of humans and their fundamental need for emotion and imagination.
Louisa, Mr. Gradgrind's favorite child and the protégé of his factual regime, leads a broken and embittered life culminating in a showdown between ideologies. She is a prime example of a child "filled to the brim" with knowledge by her father's strictly scientific education. Confused by her coldhearted upbringing, Louisa feels disconnected from her emotions and alienated from other people, but yet she yearns to experience more than the hard scientific facts she has learned all her life. While she vaguely recognizes that her father’s system of education has deprived her childhood of all joy, she cannot avoid being coldly rational and emotionally blunted, unable to actively invoking her emotions. She would have been a curious, passionate person that would have been "self-willed but for her bringing up" by her strict, utilitarian father, and now, she knows no joy in life.
However, Louisa has not succumbed entirely to her father’s prohibition against wondering and imagining. Her humanity emerges gradually as the novel progresses, as the result of her warm inner fire created by her secret fancies in otherwise her lonely, mechanized existence. As her failing and loveless marriage to the greedy and arrogant "bully of humility" Bounderby takes its toll, Louisa reaches out, first to Stephen Blackpool, an oppressed factory worker, and then to James Harthouse, a cynical, amoral, and thrill-seeking aristocrat who tries to seduce her. Here, the long denial of two vital human forces, emotion and imagination, causes an explosive release of containment in Louisa, inflicting her with adulterous yearnings that drives her to the brink of madness and to an eventual emotional breakdown at her father's mercy. Nothing in Louisa's previous education has prepared her to handle her emerging passions. She saves herself from disgrace just in time, helped by the friendship of Sissy Jupe, who represents the wisdom of the heart ― a wisdom Louisa has never known. In the end, Louisa's true nature...

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