Utilitarian Logic in 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...