All students of literature know the significance of Hard Times (1854) by Charles Dickens. Bitzer, the obedient pupil, has been taught not to see anywhere what he does not see in Fact; to discard the word Fancy, and never to Wonder. The owner of his school, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, ‘a man of fact and calculations’, believes human nature to be ‘a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic’. We know that this is the novel’s critique of utilitarianism, a philosophy underpinning early industrial capitalism which is closely associated with the methods of mathematical science. Science here is identified both with an economic system which oppresses multitudes within the newly-emergent industrial working class, and with a way of thinking which diminishes what it is to be alive, whether as a horse or as a human. In this sense it also becomes closely associated with a certain interpretation of the word materialism, a doctrine denying the existence of ‘spirit’ and maintaining instead that life, including human nature and identity, is completely reducible to physical and chemical properties.


Human Nature Literary Study Literary Critic Present Book Metaphorical Status 
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© Jeff Wallace 2005

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  • Jeff Wallace

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