Charles Dickens and the Industrial Landscape.
Charles Dickens was a powerfully sympathetic force in the Victorian Era towards the suffering Middle Class. He believed that misplaced ideals had lead the upper-middle class to pursue riches and delicacies while totally disregarding what the acquisition of these nice things meant for those below. In many of his works, Dickens gives more than a simple nod to this upper-class corruption. Both in his novel Hard Times, and in his famous Victorian short-story A Christmas Carol, Dickens emphasizes the dehumanization of workers and the hostility that existed between classes as a result.
In the section of Hard Times entitled Coketown, Dickens describes a filthy city, covered in a film of soot created by coal. Coketown, “a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it”, is described as almost machine-like in the grimy monotony of the working class “like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness” (Dickens 1098). It bares resemblance to the description of depressing fog lying over the city where “Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” (Dickens 1382). Both settings create a sickening feel that Dickens argues is a result of greedy, profit-driven capitalism.
Dickens’ own childhood hardships, like his father’s stint in Debtor’s Prison, led him into continued sympathy toward the cruel class breakdown as an adult. When he began to gain notoriety as an author, he quickly explored the potential for social impact in literature. Soon after, Dickens realized his writing could turn heads and get people talking in the direction of ethical dilemmas, and as time wore on he transitioned out of stories with happy endings and into fiction pieces with thinly veiled accusations.
Hard Times’ fictionally nicknamed city “Coketown”, which resembled a smaller Manchester, was created by Dickens as a manifestation of his disgust in the depraved conditions of the working class and complacency of the middle-class towards this mistreatment. Published in weekly installments, Hard Times came out almost ten years after the publication of A Christmas Carol. Although A Christmas Carol is a heartwarming Christmas story of redemption and rebirth, its roots emerge from Dickens’ desire to raise awareness of the social irresponsibility he saw around him. Hard Times does not seek to instill this imaginative hope at all, but merely discusses the issues as they are.
Charles Dickens was a beacon for change in Victorian England who used fiction to push others to see what needed to change. He successfully ‘went to bat’ for the suffering lower class and shed light on the injustices around him.
Dickens, Charles. “Hard Times”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Longman, 2010. 1098-1100.
Dickens, Charles. “A Christmas Carol”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Longman, 2010. 1376-1425