Hard Times

Utilitarianism

"Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely
twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive.
Sheds coat in spring......" A perfect example of a product of
utilitarian education, Bitzer defines a horse off the top of his
head in a split second. Utilitarianism is the assumption that
human beings act in a way that highlights their own self
interest. It is based on factuality and leaves little room for
imagination. Dickens provides three vivid examples of this
utilitarian logic in Hard Times. The first; Mr. Thomas
Gradgrind, one of the main characters in the book, was the
principal of a school in Coketown. He was a firm believer in
utilitarianism and instilled this philosophy into the students at
the school from a very young age, as well as his own
children. Mr. Josiah Bounderby was also a practitioner of
utilitarianism, but was more interested in the profit that
stemmed from it. At the other end of the perspective, a
group of circus members, who are the total opposite of
utilitarians, are added by Dickens to provide a sharp
contrast from the ideas of Mr. Bounderby and Mr.
Gradgrind.

Thomas Gradgrind Sr., a father of five children, has lived his
life by the book and never strayed from his philosophy that
life is nothing more than facts and statistics. He has
successfully incorporated this belief into the school system of
Coketown, and has tried his best to do so with his own
children. The educators see children as easy targets just
waiting to be filled with information. They did not consider,
however, the children’s need for fiction, poetry, and other
fine arts that are used to expand children’s minds, all of
which are essential today in order to produce well-rounded
human beings through the educational process. One has to
wonder how different the story would be if Gradgrind did
not run the school. How can you give a utilitarian man such
as Gradgrind such power over a town? I do like how
Dickens structures the book to make one ask obvious
questions such as these. Dickens does not tell us much about
the success of the other students of the school besides
Bitzer, who is fairly successful on paper, but does not have
the capacity as a person to deal with life’s everyday
struggles. Gradgrinds two oldest children, Tom and Louisa,
are examples of how this utilitarian method failed miserably.
These children were never given the opportunity to think for
themselves, experience fun things in life, or even use their
imaginations. True, they are smart people in the factual sense
but do not have the street smarts to survive. Tom is a young
man who, so fed up with his father’s strictness and
repetition, revolts against him and leaves home to work in
Mr. Bounderby’s bank. Tom, now out from under his
fathers wing, he begins to drink and gamble heavily.
Eventually, to get out of a deep gambling debt, he robs a
bank and is forced to flee the area. When Bitzer realizes that
Tom has robbed the bank and catches him, Mr. Gradgrind
begs him to let Tom go, reminding him of all of the hard
work that was put on him while at the school. Ironically
Bitzer, using the tools of factuality that he had learned in
Gradgrinds school, replies that the school was paid for, but
it is now over and he owes nothing more. I think this is
extremely funny how, at a time of need, Gradgrind’s
educational theory has backfired in his face. I think Dickens
put this irony in as a comical device but also to show how
ineffective the utilitarian method of teaching is. Louisa, unlike
Tom, does get along with her father. She even agrees to
marry Mr. Bounderby, even though she does not love him,
in order to please her father. She stays in the marriage with
Bounderby, and goes about life normally and factually, until
she is faced with a dilemma and panics. Mr. James
Harthouse, a young, good looking guy, is attracted to Louisa
and deceivingly draws her attraction to him. She does not
know what to do since she has never had feelings of her
own before. Her father never gave her the opportunity to
think for herself, or even love someone. This is why Louisa
goes frantic and ends up crying in her fathers lap. She has
always been told what to do and what is ‘right’, and now
even her father is stumped. For the first time in the whole
novel, Mr. Gradgrind strays from the utilitarian philosophy
and shows compassion for his daughter and her feelings.
One must think that he is beginning to doubt his philosophy
after seeing it