“Fact, Fact, Fact,” says Mr. M’Choakumchild, a character with possibly the best name of any fictional character I have ever encountered (47). I expected to be beaten over the head with this “fact” argument but Dickens artfully conveys the consequences of the line of thinking throughout the book and saves most of the bludgeoning for the first few chapters. I found the book, in general, to be a more enjoyable read than what other people have suggested to me. The exceptions to my experience, however, came in the form of accented characters. Stephen Blackpool and Mr. Sleary may as well have spoken like Chewbacca in which the audience is reliant on the other Star Wars characters’ reactions for meaning. They were not entirely unintelligible to me but enough to slow my reading considerably at certain points. I think it is the combination of broken speech funneled into long, and from what I gather, elegant speeches that confound me. Stephen utters “I ha’ fell into a pit that ha’ been wi’ th’ fire damp crueler than battle” (291). Without the aid of a footnote I might have confused the line for a biblical reference rather than explosive mine gas. Mr. Sleary drawls out “Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht” (310). Both quotes are excruciating to even reproduce. The characters that have the most to say about Dickens’ moral seem to communicate it the worst.
Both characters need no moral education but clearly lack a formal one. This supports Dickens’ argument on the need for imagination in all things. The best people come from the worst circumstances. During Stephen’s rescue a man who was introduced as a drunk is described as “the best man of all” (288). I admire Dickens’ unyielding faith in humanity. Cold hard fact without fancy leaves one corrupt and empty. Tamara Ketabgian states “the machine represents the most repetitive and inhuman aspects of industrial rationalism,” in her article “‘Melancholy Mad Elephants’: Affect and the Animal Machine in Hard Times” (653). Stephen does not adhere to this rationalism so he maintains his moral compass but his life is ruled by others who do follow this industrial rationalism. Mr. Bounderby announces he will “have nothing to do with you,” to Stephen (182). Stephen merely explains the situation from a moral point of view that Bounderby cannot understand and is punished for it. Dickens uses Stephen to demonstrate how cold calculation can punish worthy people that do not fit into a predetermined world view.
As a bachelor of arts student I am at the mercy of unwanted opinions on the usefulness of my degree. I am not learning facts or at least the right ones. I should be getting a degree in business, working in the oil field, or really anything that is likely to make me large amounts of money. I worry about this philosophy of fact the way Dickens did in his time. The difference being that today everyone has a voice, at least in the western world. The powerful are just as loud as the ordinary and bad grammar is likely in either case.
“Sir, I canna,” Stephen says to Mr. Bounderby, doubting himself even when speaking out (181). He says what he means in the humblest and most degraded fashion. Stephen is the lowest of the working class and knows better than to expect to be understood by Bounderby. Dickens justifies the voice of characters who speak badly. Their manner of speaking is poor but the content of their words is valuable.
If I was in a Dickens book I would be dead inside or speak like I am always chewing something. Characters who do speak correctly must learn error of their ways. Louisa laments “where are the graces of my soul,” (241). She fully adheres to the cold logic of her father, Mr. Gradgrind until she realizes how unhappy she is. The well-spoken can be happy but not through education.
I find this distinction between literate and illiterate voices fascinating as Dickens writing is clearly well developed and he isn’t an evil factory owner. I understand that he had his own trials growing up and had to earn his literacy. I suppose he wanted to prove that everyone was worthy of a voice regardless of their manner of speaking.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Ed. Graham Law. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2013. Print.