What Is "Hard Times" About?


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Will Martin answered
Unusually for Charles Dickens, whose favourite setting for his novels was London, "Hard Times" is set in the fictional town of Coketown. Coketown is based on Preston, where Dickens had spent some time before writing "Hard Times" in 1854, and it expresses his misgivings about the effects of the Industrial Revolution, then at its height. Coketown is a drearily uniform place where "the infirmary might have been the jail" and the noise and pollution of heavy industry permeates everyday life. The uniformity extends to the education system; the novel opens with the words "Now, what I want is facts," and we are introduced to a view of education which denies imagination and creativity. The purpose of the system is to churn out obedient robots to work in the new mass-production industries, but the strikes and unrest, which occur throughout the novel, make it clear that the plan is not working. Against the philosophy of the "Hard Fact Fellows" is set the circus which survives on the margins of this society, offering an alternative view: "People must be amused." Dickens makes it clear that he prefers the circus to the factory.

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