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.

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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 childrens need for fiction, poetry, and other
fine arts that are used to expand childrens 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 lifes 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 fathers strictness and
repetition, revolts against him and leaves home to work in
Mr. Bounderbys 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, Gradgrinds
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 backfire in his face more than once.
Josiah Bounderby is another prime example of utilitarianism.

He is one of the wealthiest people in Coketown; owning a
bank and a factory, but is not really a likable person. His
utilitarian philosophy is similar to Gradgrinds in the sense that
factuality is the single most important virtue that one could
posses. Mr. Bounderby maintained throughout the story his
utilitarian views, which basically stated that nothing else is
important besides profit. Being the owner of both a factory
and a bank, Bounderby employs many workers, yet seems
to offer them no respect at all. He refers to the factory
workers as “Hands,” because that is all they are to him.

Bounderby often states that workers are all looking for
“venison, turtle soup, and a golden spoon,” while all they
really want is decent working conditions and fair wage for
their work. He is not concerned about his employees as
human beings, but how much their hands can produce during
the workday, resulting with money in his pocket. When one
of his workers, Stephen Blackpool came to Bounderbys
house asking for advice about his bad marriage, he was
treated as inferior just because of his social status. Dickens
portrayed the scene as one in which Blackpool was on a
level five steps below Bounderby and his associates because
he was a lowly worker who was obviously much less
educated than them. It almost seemed like they would not
even take him seriously because he was such. Blackpool
was told that he could not divorce his wife because it would
be against the laws of England. Later in the book,
Bounderby divorces his wife. This shows that wealth played
a large role in determining the social classes that people
were in and the privileges they had. This was definitely unfair
but the social classes were structured in a way which
allowed those who had money to look down upon those
who were less fortunate. Generally, those who were not
well-educated did not have any money, while the
well-educated ones such as Bounderby and Gradgrind were
wealthy. The people who knew the factual information,
(utilitarians) were successful, while those who did not were
reduced to working in the factories of the utilitarians.

Dickens paints a vivid picture of this inequality between
social classes and shows he does not care much for it. It is
fairly easy to see that Dickens holds a contempt for
Bounderby and the utilitarian philosophy he carries. The
book details the philosophy, then shows how miserably it
failed. How much different would their lives be if the town
was not run by utilitarians.


Dickens cleverly added in circus people as a contrast to the
utilitarian approach to life. The circus people could be called
the total opposite of utilitarianism. If one element of the book
stands out in my mind, it would be this one. The circus
people are simple, open-minded human beings whose goal
in life is to make people laugh. Dickens portrays them as a
step up from the “Hands” but still close to the bottom in the
social structure. These people are hated by Gradgrind,
Bounderby and other utilitarians because they represent
everything that is shunned in utilitarianism such as love,
imagination, and humor. Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus
man, was taken in by the Gradgrinds to live in their home.

She is representative of the circus people with her innocence
and free-will, qualities which are lacking in the lives of the
people around her. Just by her presence, her goodness rubs
off on the people around her, although it is too late for most
of them. Even after numerous attempts to force utilitarianism
into her by Mr. Gradgrind and his school, she is still the
fun-loving girl that she always was because she grew up
living with “normal” people who thought for themselves and
loved each other. She influenced these qualities on the
youngest Gradgrind daughter Jane, who led a much more
enjoyable and fulfilling life than her older sister Louisa
because of those influences. Jane is not spoken of much until
the end of the book but I like the way Dickens showed the
effects of the utilitarian lifestyle as opposed to the
non-utilitarian lifestyle. The utilitarians ultimately ended with a
great downfall because their narrow-minds could not endure
the pressures that life can impose on oneself. The people
that did not fall victim to the utilitarian trap were able to live
their lives happily and freely, able to love, laugh, and use
their imagination; which is the way life ought to be lived.


Dickens obviously had a definitive opinion of the way life
should be lived and did an excellent job of depicting it. His
method was somewhat indirect in the sense that he worked
backwards to get his point across, but turned out to be very
effective as the story progressed. Most of the story revolved
around utilitarianism and the study of cold hard facts, but
when the character flaws began to surface as a result of this
philosophy, Dickens is quick to emphasize them. One
actually sees the main character of the book and firm
supporter of utilitarianism, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind,
experience the faults of his practice and begin to stray from
it. Now, after watching his life fall apart, maybe he wishes he
were in the circus.


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