Industry as the New Religion in Dickens’ Hard Times
In Charles Dickens’ 1854 novel, Hard Times, we get a vision of a city and its people that have become devoted to industry and profit, to the benefit of few and the detriment of most. In a brief passage from the novel featured in our anthology, he describes for us the architecture of industrialized Manchester (“Coketown,” because it’s covered in coal dust), a homogenous conglomeration of red brick buildings, including eighteen churches. The denominations of which are not revealed by the author, because, who cares? Nobody goes to them anyway, “First, the perplexing mystery of the place was, Who belonged to the eighteen denominations? Because, whoever did, the laboring people did not” (Dickens, 1099).
On Sundays, the narrator claims, the working class citizens of Manchester merely “lounged listlessly,” perhaps looking disinterestedly at the many churches in the city, but never actually entering into them. This lack of religious devotion, according to the petitioners to have the citizens forced to go to church every Sunday, is chalked up to the fact that they are all just a bunch of drunken, opiate-eating, low-establishment-frequenting, foul mouthed degenerates. Where these petitioners found the time to get up in arms about something so petty (to a modern reader) as religious attendance was probably a mystery to many of the laboring Mancunians, since, if they were anything like many people living during this period in English history, Sunday was probably their only day off, “In the early decades of the century, before legislation was passed to address some of the worst evils of the factory system, workers – including children – toiled for up to sixteen hours a day, six days a week” (1088). If you’re doing the math, that’s 90+ hours a week. These people deserve a round of applause for getting out of bed on Sundays.
The citizens don’t need to go to church, because, in a way, they have been worshipping all week. The English at this time lived in a world which was changing at a rapid pace, new inventions abounded which were increasing production of goods and making the men behind this production filthy rich. The problem was that they were the only ones making a profit during this age of advancement. The poor were in more dire straits than ever and had basically been forced into the position of worker bees, toiling their (often brief) lives away for their queen. All other values (helping others, family, and even God) were pushed aside to make room for the new religion; Industry.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 1099. Print.