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Hard Times: A Realist Portrayal

Meg Strauss

British Literature 277

April 11th, 2016


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Debate has arisen over whether or not Charles Dickens novel Hard Times

portrays Dickens as being a romantic or, on the other hand, a realist. Various occurrences within

the novel illustrate both realist and romantic literary features. Typical romantic traits include

strong emotion, individuality, and a thirst for freedom all of which are inarguably present

within the characters of the novel. Some critics have gone so far as to claim that these traits

Dickens instills in the Hard Time characters alone labels him as a romantic, in comparison to a

realist. However, other critics who claim Dickens to be a realist state that Dickens uses these

traditional romantic tendencies in his novel in order for his audience to better relate to the

characters. When one truly analyzes the novel, it becomes strongly apparent that Hard Times is,

in fact, a realist portrayal and not a romantic novel. Realists typically depict life as it actually is,

which is exactly what Dickens accomplishes within the novel. When purely examining Hard

Times, Dickens undoubtedly leans more towards being a realist instead of a romantic; for he

includes accurate language and cultural dialect, complex characters, and does not sugarcoat the

hardships that come with all forms of life, regardless of social class.

Providing an accurate portrayal of how people verbally communicate is a strong

realist concept due to the fact that it offers an exact representation of life through the centrality of

dialogue. In romantic literary works, conversation is often presented in a perfect language, free

from verbal errors or eccentrics. However, in Dickens novel, the reader can clearly sense the

reality of the people speaking, because the language is not perfect. This idea is seen clearly in the

way that Sleary talks. He talks with a lisp, which adds to the reality that some people have

speech impediments. Sleary states, There! Now Thethilia hath kithd all the children, and hugged

all the women and thanken handth all round with all the men, clear, ever one of you, and ring in
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the band for the thecond part (272). As one can clearly notice, Dickens replaces all of Slearys

s sounds with a th sound, thus highlighting the fact that Sleary has a lisp and does not speak

in a way that is romantically flawless.

Dickens also uses various vernaculars to portray the real life idea that people of

different social classes talk in different dialect. Dialect is essentially based on social and cultural

position. In romantic text, it is rare when dialect varies. However, Dickens stresses the

individuality of speech and makes each character talk in a way that is unique to not only their

position in society, but also to themselves.

For instance, one can compare how Grandgrind talks in relation to how Stephan

Blackpool speaks. In the novel, Grandgrind states, Bounderby, you are always so interested in

my young people, practically in Louisa, that I make no apology to saying to you, I am very much

vexed by this discovery. I have systematically devoted myself (as you know) to the education of

the reason of my family (24). Grandgrind is an educated school owner, who lives a life in

which money is not of vital concern. Grandgrind can be labeled as being in the upper-middle

class to the upper-class part of society, which reflects in his way of speaking. He uses great

verbal grammar, often using skilled vocabulary such as vexed and systematically. In other

words, Grandgrinds speaks in a way that emphasizes clarity, and his dialect portrays him as

being an educated, seemingly wealthy man.

Stephan Blackpool, on the other hand, comes from a completely different world

as Grandgrind. Blackpool is an industrial worker who does not have vast amounts of money. One

can assume that from his job title in the era he was living in, he has little to no education.

Blackpools societal position is in direct opposition to Grandgrinds, which is reflected in

Blackpools dialect. In a passage from the novel, Blackpool states, It ha shined upon me in my
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pain and trouble down below. It ha sined into my mind. I ha lookn at I am thowt othee, Rachael,

till the muddle in my mind have cleared awa, above a bit, I hope (264). Blackpool talks

somewhat in slang, as he often does not pronounce words to their full being. For instance,

Blackpool uses the words ha and lookn instead of has and looking. By talking in this

slang, the fact that Blackpool is of a different class than Grandgrind is highlighted; for Blackpool

speaks in a way that portrays him as being uneducated since his vocabulary is nowhere near as

eloquent and manicured as Grandgrinds. Dickens truly emphasis the realist idea that ones

educational background fully plays into their lives, from their role in society, to even something

as seemingly unimportant as their dialect.

The idea that Dickens portrays many complex characters within Hard Times also

lends to the fact that Dickens is much more of a realist than he is a romantic. In many romantic

texts, characters are often presented in one simple way. There are those who are morally bad, and

those who are morally good. However, in realist novels, characters are not, for the lack of better

word, flat. Rather, characters continuously blur the line between good and bad, leaving the reader

muddled about their natural state of being. This realist idea echoes the real life concept that no

person is essentially good or bad, but instead a person is comprised of morals that vary through

social situation, as well as through age and life in general. Constantly evolving and complex

personalities are seen in almost all of the novels characters, but perhaps is seen most vividly in

the character of Grandgrind.

When one evaluates Grandgrind, the complexity of his character becomes

extremely clear. In the beginning of the novel, Grandgrind is portrayed in a way that is very flat

and emotionless. Dickens illustrates Grandgrind as being a man who only cares about the facts of

life and does not have the time to enjoy the fancy. For example, in the first lines of Hard
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Times, Grandgrind states, Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but

Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can

only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to

them (9). In this quote, the reader can already grasp the kind of man that Grandgrind appears to

be. He can easily be deemed as a man without emotions, because he would quickly label

emotions as not being factual.

In the start of the novel, Grandgrind can also be deemed as being bad when

analyzing how he treats his wife and children. Grandgrind seemingly has no time for emotion,

such as the emotion of love and compassion, and it echoes in the way he interacts with his

family. This is strongly displayed in the scene where Grandgrind essentially marries off his

daughter, Lousia, to his much older friend, Bounderby. Grandgrind states,

My dear Lousia, I prepared you last night to give me your serious attention in the

conversation we are now going to have together. You have been so well trained, and you

do, I am happy to say, so much justice to the education you have received, that I have

perfect confidence in your good sense. You are not impulsive, you are not romantic, you

are accustomed to view everything from the strong dispassionate ground of reason and

calculation (96).

Grandgrind seemingly does not care for his daughters happiness, and justifies

this by claiming she has succeeded in her education. This quote stresses the concept that

Grandgrind does not care for his family, establishing him as a morally bad character.

However, at the end of the novel, Grandgrinds character becomes more complex

as his attitude towards his emotions and his daughter shifts almost entirely. In the last chapters,
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Lousia confronts her father of the misery he has caused her, which she blames directly on his

form of unemotional teaching. Surprisingly, Grandgrinds response to this accusation is very

emotional, for the text states, On hearing this, after all his care, he bowed his head upon his

hand and groaned aloud (209). Grandgrind was completely mortified that he had essentially

ruined his daughters life, stating over and over again, Oh, no. No, my poor child (209). By

having this response, Grandgrinds overall being seems to change. He was once so keen on only

indulging in facts; however, upon his daughters confrontation, he instantaneously became

everything that he previously would have never condoned. In one scene, Grandgrinds character

completely changed, resulting in Grandgrind being a complex character. It is very rare when an

actual persons opinion does not even slightly change throughout their lifetime, and Dickens

portrays this idea through Grandgrind. The intricate character of Grandgrind helps establish the

concept that Dickens was much more a realist than a romantic because Dickens seems to

embrace the reality of the complexity instilled in humans, instead of condensing his characters

into one simple, romantically-themed personality.

Dickens realistic tendencies are also shown in the way that he demonstrates the

hardships of life throughout Hard Times. In some romantic texts, life often is displayed as being

completely flawless and full of beauty. However, Dickens portrays life as it actually as a

journey filled with painful and saddening moments. Dickens stresses the fact that life is difficult

for every person, regardless of if they were born rich or born poor. This idea is seen in Lousias

life. She was born into a wealthy and educated family, yet her life still included very sad

moments.
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For example, Lousia has always struggled with the idea of fact over the fancy,

which is an idea that was pushed upon her greatly as a child. She expresses this to her father later

on in the novel by stating,

How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it

form the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of me soul? Where are the

sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done with the

garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here (208).

As one can clearly notice, Lousia is incredibly unhappy with the life in which she

was brought into. She was given proper shelter, education, and food; however, she still feels as

though she lives in a void in which [her] whole life sinks (208). Lousia also was raised into a

world where she felt that she had no choice but to marry an older man whom she did not

remotely love. In the same conversation with her father, she speaks to him,

If you had known that there lingered in my breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses

capable of being cherished into strength, defying all the calculations ever made by man,

and no more known to his arithmetic than his Creator is, would you have given me to

the husband whom I am not sure that I hate? (209)

Lousia is illustrated has feeling incredibly unhappy and dissatisfied with her own

life. Within these quotes, the reader can sense that Lousia desperately yearns to experience

indulging in the fancy, as well as marrying a man whom she does not despise. Even though most

would consider Lousia be born into a very fortunate world, Dickens still highlights the fact that

she is unhappy. By doing so, Dickens provides a realist portrayal that all forms of life are not
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solely beautiful and simple like romantics tend to view life to be. Instead, all life come with hard

timeshence the title of the book.

While Hard Times does present some romantic literary features, the book overall

helps portray Dickens as a realist in comparison to a romantic. The main requirement for being a

realist writer is that one has to accurately portray life as it actually is, and not what the author

wants it to be. This is exactly what Dickens accomplishes in the novel. He uses accurate dialect

to convey the flaws of ones language through the implantation of Slearys lisp, as well displays

the authentic differences in language that come with the differences between social and

educational classes. Dickens also creates complex characters, such as Grandgrind, in order to

illustrate that real life human beings personalities do, in fact, evolve throughout time and

situations. Finally, Dickens does not portray life to be plainly wonderful, but rather shows that

actual life is full of sorrow through the character of Lousia. By portraying these concepts and

themes within Hard Times, the idea that Dickens is more so a realist than a romantic becomes

very clear. Even though Dickens does use romantic traits, the vast, important, and extensive

realistic features displayed in the novel far outweigh the usage of the romantic characteristics.