Charles Dickens is arguably the most remarkable critic of the Romantic Era English sociopolitical system. He focuses his energy on the unfolding systemic changes in the social structure in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. In Hard Times, he discourses various fundamental social issues like femininity, parenting, and industrial working. On femininity, Dickens places a woman at the center of the social fabric. He elevates her position to that of a guiding angel and a moral custodian. However, through the portrayal of Louisa, he insinuates that the reputable character of the woman is prone to destruction through retrogressive social facts and imaginary barriers placed by the patriarchs in the society. In the Victorian era, women were powerful pillars of the family who not only provided guidance and comfort to their spouses but also supported their siblings and endeavored to leave a mark in their lives. However, undue checks and controls by the male figure was an impediment to their social progression.
The Victorian era was marked by the paradigm shift from rationalism to romanticism and mysticism. These values transformed the society in a significant way that resulted in the erosion of moral values previously held in high esteem. The dawn of Industrial Revolution came with the mechanization of human beings and the placement of strenuous responsibility on children and adults as well. The school system was fashioned in a manner that prepared the learners for the demands of the job market. Unfortunately, this excessive demand from the external destroyed the internal, often converting the children to adults struggling with coping with the high ethical standards set by their contemporaries. Charles Dickens uses Louisa in contrast with Sissy and Rachel to prove that although woman played a very important role in supporting the family unit, poor parenting in the name of education was detrimental to the inherent character of the woman that is noble and virtuous.
Sissy is a model woman in the Victorian era. She subdues all forces against her progression and stands outs as a liberal social figure that stuns the maverick Mr. Grandgrid. The latter "really liked Sissy too well to have a contempt for her...Somehow or other, he had become possessed by an idea that there was something in this girl which could hardly be set forth in a tabular form" (Dickens, 1854). While Grandgrid believed in influencing the minds of children, Sissy proves too difficult for his manipulation, meaning that a woman could take a neutral stand in this era. Rachel is another noble female figure in the novel. When Stephen comes home tired and weak from daytime chores, she finds consolation in her, sometimes looking "as if she had a glory shining round her head" (Dickens, 1854).
Louisa Grandgrid is the complete opposite of the ideal woman in Dickens' novel. She "doesn't know what other girls know" (Dickens, 1854). However, her woes are attributable to an education system imposed on her by her father, curtailing her freedom of exploration and enlightenment. Louisa's upbringing in her father's house is an example of the mistreatment of women that faced during the Victorian era.
In conclusion, although women occupied a high position as family supporters and guides to their kin, oppressive social obligations prevented some women from achieving their optimum potential. In Hard Times, Louisa expresses self-pity while Sissy and Rachel play their rightful roles in the society. From the story of Louisa and Sissy, however, it is observable that the self-esteem played a big role in attracting respect from the male figure in the Victorian era.
Dickens, C. (1998). Hard Times, ed. Paul Schlicke. Oxford World's Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) ch, 15, 127.Dixon, N. (2010). From Georgian to Victorian. History Review, (68), 34.
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