Dec 10, 2020 in Literature

Karl Marx on Hard Times

Hard Times by Charles Dickens


Hard Times was the tenth of Charles Dickens novels first published in 1854. The main objective of the book was to appraise the English communities by highlighting the emerging economic and social pressures in the country in the wake of industrial revolution. The story behind the novel is set in a fictionist Victorian Industrial center which was presumed to be a generic mill-tow in the northern England similar to Manchester. It is believed that among the main reasons why Dickens wrote the story Hard Times was to boost the sales of a weekly periodical known as Household Words. The audience responded with diverse reactions based on how each individual was affected by the story. In the post-Industrial Revolution period, a communist Karl Marx in particular focused on how Dickens focused on the divide between the undervalued workers and the capitalists in the Victorian period.

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Charles Dickens

He was born in 1812 and became one of the most renowned novelists who depicted the contradictions in the British society during the great era of industrial revolution. Karl Marx was one of Dickens admirers and praised him in most of his articles. Dickens was born of the lowest sector of the class that Marx focused on. His family was unable to sustain himself and his family. Dickens school times were deplorable and at the age of 12, he worked in various low paying jobs including the factory. This experience changed much of his attitude towards work and pitied factory labor which affected most of his afterlife.

Hard Times is one of Dickens most concentrated portraits revealing the social inequality and exploitation of the working class. This fictional publication based on an industrial city presented a bitter strike that locked the textile workers out of freedom. It shows how Dickens depicted the social reality taken on a stylized form of satirized caricature. Although the novel talks about the society that is defined by the realities of industrial revolution, the story starts with the establishment of Mr. Gradgrind in the class where he teaches Mr. MChoakums child. Other characters included in the novel were the hypocritical and tyrannical factory owner known as Mr. Bounderby with his despairing honest worker Mr. Blackpool. The word diction in the character naming was specifically designed to create the image of the extent of exploitation and suffering the Victorian society underwent.

Even so, Hard Times openly denounces the horror of industrial capitalism; it does not particularly project a serious political and economic alternative. Dickens objective was to sympathize to some extent with the workers agony. He was fearful and more skeptical against unleashing the anger of the militant class who would have otherwise staged a conflict or an organized resistance making the situation badly off. In one of the chapters in the beginning, men and Brothers, the author sympathized with the workers in Boundebys factory who gathered in a union hall. This sympathy was to critic the union movement who just lectured the workers without any concern of their independent opinion.

Dickens fiercely represented the destructive effect of capitalism at the wake of industrial hegemony but did not imagine a counterforce to the destructiveness. He appealed to the human capacities for love, charity, kindness and play. Just like Thomas Carlyle to whom the book was dedicated, he believed that capitalism was just a recipe for class warfare but had no courage for violent confrontation.

For instance, at the end of the French revolution in the 19th century, the effects haunted Dickens and his contemporaries. At the same time, suffering and inequality was courageously endured and alleviated by the Christians virtues of kindness and generous reforms. Any attempt to create a militant struggle would result to a disaster just like Coketown.

In spite of these limitations in his political vision, Dickens representation of capitalisms most grotesque and dark side was vividly and insightfully expounded by Karl Marx. Most of Marxs literature focused on social equality and borrowed much from the Hard Times. For instance, Bleak House was one of Marxs books that famously satirized the judicial system in Britain and other institutions where the law for ordinary people was stranded in order to advance the interest of the wealthy and well-connected in the society.

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Themes Discussed in the Book


The main target of the novel was the utilitarian group. During the Victorian era, utilitarianism was the most prevalent school of thought as founded by James Mill and Jeremy Bentham. The ethics of theoretical utilitarian held that the main goal of any individual and the society is to promote the general welfare of the society. Dickens believed that the pursuit of total happiness was achievable in a totally rationalized society. He was appalled by what was interpreted to be a selfish philosophy which was combined the materialistic laissez-faire capitalistic principles in the education system with the industrial policies. In Dickens perspective, the prevalent utilitarianism values in education and industries promoted contemptuous attitude between the industrialists and the workers creating a situation where the youths imaginations were totally neglected.

Human mechanization

Hard Times was written in the 19th century when England was overzealously undergoing industrial revolution and threatening to transform human beings into machines by frustrating their imaginations and emotions. This concept was suggested through the activities of Gradgrind who educates the young kids of his family and school to follow the ways of facts while his supporter Bounderby treats his factory workers as emotionless beings that can easily be exploited for personal gains. For instance, in chapter 5, the narrator creates a parallel between the Grandgrid children and the factory hands where both lead monotonous and uniformed existence that is unaffected by pleasure. As a result, their feelings and fantasies are dulled making them more of mechanized beings.

The mechanization effect was compounded by Gradgrinds rational self-interest philosophy which believed that human nature quantifiable, measurable and governable entirely through the use of rational rules. Indeed, the schools tried to turn children into small machines that can behave in accordance to such rules. The primary goal of Hard Times is to illustrate the dangers of allowing human to develop a machine like culture, and the author suggests that without imagination and compassion, life would become unbearable.

Conflict between fancy and reality

As Mr. Gradgrind insisted that all his children must adhere to facts, the author not only illustrates how fancy was born with high regards just like facts. Dickens suggests that the constituents of facts were a matter of opinion or perspective. For instance, as Bounderby continued to perceive that the factory employees are too lazy and good-for-nothing, he also expected them to be fed from a golden spoon. In contrast, the factory hands find themselves working too hard whilst being unjustly exploited by the factory owners. According to Dickens, these sets of facts could not be reconciled because they largely depended on perspective and he was naturally interested in elaborating the question of taste and personal perspective.

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The Hard Time Vs. the communist manifesto

In the late 18th and early 19th century during the wake of Industrial Revolution in Europe, the gap between the haves and the have nots widened and became more irreparable. For those people who were trapped in the underclass workforce, their lives bleak and ridden with scarceness due to the fact that they had little or no representation in the administrative arena, their working conditions became more perilous. The industrial revolution resulted to a society that was divided into classes that were severely divisive. Charles Dickens in his book Hard Times and Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto provided solutions through their non-fictional writing.

Karl Marxs Pamphlet detailed the basic objectives about the communist agenda and simultaneously explicated the theory which buttresses the communist movement. In Marks argument, the history of Industrial revolution has been that of class struggle between the exploiting class and the exploited working class. It was a struggle between the dominating and the dominated classes from various stages of social development. The relationship between these classes was described by the abuse of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, the wage laborers, the bosses and the employers.

Inevitably, this revolution would springboard from the volatile states of overt dissimilarity and subjugation where a re-ordering of the society was necessary to replace the bourgeoisie. This class relation that was clearly presented during the industrial revolution continued to affect the society up to 21st century under the disguise of Economic systems and capitalism founded to benefit the private investors through profiteering. Marx argued that capitalism was only a culture that was inherently quixotic where the powerful believed on stepping on others to achieve a personal gain leading to more conflict and acrimony. The revolution drowned among the most uniting factors in human history, the ecstasies of religious fever and chivalrous enthusiasm.

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The Marxists Philosophy 

Karl Marx was the most remarkable figure in the British account in elimination of class based societies. The Marxist theorists elaborated a self-confessed discipline in the attempt to explain the evolution of historic societies. Marx believed that it was important to deal with the politics of the ruling elites as well as the historical nature of the entire population. The main problem was to develop a mechanism that would be comprehensively convincing. Marxs solution proved to be exceptionally influential in classifying individuals in a collective group based on their contribution in production process. This enabled him and his factions to categorize everyone in one among the three categories. The first category was landowners who acquired their unearned income from lease and rent of land. The other class was the bourgeois capitalists mainly the owners of the industries; they earned their income from the proceeds of their business in terms of profit. Lastly, the lowest class was the proletarian workers who earned their money from selling their labor in exchange of weekly wages from the industries or farms.

In Marxs opinion, these were the three most fundamental and constitutive classes of humanity and the conflict among them raged unabated for centuries. He claimed that it was through them that an essential motor of altering the historical perception was to be found. Based on Dickens argument in his book Hard Times, Karl Marx borrowed much from Dickens argument and took the debate to generations. The novel reminded each generation how fundamental change was for the benefit of future generation. Marx was courageous enough to point the weaknesses in society that Dickens feared to mention. He was a complement to the struggle for social justice in victoria era.

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