Take an passage from Hard Times (a paragraph long) and explain why and how this paragraph is important to the key themes of the novel.
I entertain a weak idea that the English people are as hard-worked as any people upon whom the sun shines. I acknowledge to this ridiculous idiosyncrasy, as a reason why I would give them a little more play.
In the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets, which had come into existence piecemeal, every piece in a violent hurry for some one man’s purpose, and the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death; in the last close nook of this great exhausted receiver, where the chimneys, for want of air to make a draught, were built in an immense variety of stunted and crooked shapes, as though every house put out a sign of the kind of people who might be expected to be born in it; among the multitude of Coketown, generically called ‘the Hands,’ – a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs – lived a certain Stephen Blackpool, forty years of age.
Stephen looked older, but he had had a hard life. It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen’s case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own. He had known, to use his words, a peck of trouble. He was usually called Old Stephen, in a kind of rough homage to the fact.
A rather stooping man, with a knitted brow, a pondering expression of face, and a hard-looking head sufficiently capacious, on which his iron-grey hair lay long and thin, Old Stephen might have passed for a particularly intelligent man in his condition. Yet he was not. He took no place among those remarkable ‘Hands,’ who, piecing together their broken intervals of leisure through many years, had mastered difficult sciences, and acquired a knowledge of most unlikely things. He held no station among the Hands who could make speeches and carry on debates. Thousands of his compeers could talk much better than he, at any time. He was a good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect integrity. What more he was, or what else he had in him, if anything, let him show for himself. ” […]¹
From what I read so far about Hard Times this is, according to my opinion, one of the most significant passages because it gives a likely image of the condition of the working class at the time of the industrial revolution. Dickens presents to us Stephen Blackpool, one of the “Hands” in Bounderby’s factory, to ironize the drama behind these workers. The workers of the factories needed only hands because the industrial work was exclusively manual, repetitive and it was a kind of job where you didn’t need a certain IQ. What strikes me most is the description of a man of only forty years old, completely consumed by fatigue and difficulties. Stephen lives a life of poverty but he doesn’t renounce to his honesty. To me, he seems to be a very authentic character, who wants to earn an honest living, refusing to join the corrupted worker’s group.
I think that through Stephen’s figure, Dickens wanted to highlight the fact that industrialization threatens the worker’s moral integrity, thereby creating a social confusion to which there is no solution. Stephen is therefore seen as a social victim who tries all his efforts to resist the moral corruption in order to maintain a personal dignity.
More in general, I think that the beginning of Chapter X, shows us how the industrialization turns human beings into machines by ignoring completely their emotions and imaginations.
I also think this chapter, as the whole novel, is very efficient because it represents a social complaint, addressed to highlight the miserable conditions and difficulties of the English proletariat in the 18th century.
¹ C.Dickens, Hard Times, Book First, Chapter 10, p.51