Charles Dickens’s Hard Times

Examining the themes of reason and imagination in Charles Dickens’ `Hard Times.`

This paper shows how throughout the novel Dickens satirically portrays the fallacy of reason as society’s main motivator not to suggest that imagination’s role is more important or should dominate reason, but rather to arouse an awareness of the need for middle ground, an equal helping of both reason and imagination in order for Coketown to maintain its `great place under the sun.`
`The text first presents this persisting need for balance through its portrayal of the industrialized city of Coketown. In its physical description, Coketown is portrayed as a `town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves` as well as a town `where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness` (Dickens 20-21). The narrator describes the factories further as `fairy palaces burst[ing] into illumination, before pale morning showed their monstrous serpents of smoke trailing themselves … all the melancholy-mad elephants, polished and oiled up for the day’s monotony, were at their heavy exercise again (56). In addition to imaginative description, the text makes repeated reference to the book The Arabian Nights as well as allusions to other fairytales and mythic stories. In emphasizing the imaginative aspects of the strictly Utilitarian Coketown, passages invoking the world of fairy-tale ironically, making the inhabitants of this drab, gritty, Victorian mill town re-enact the motifs of folk-tale and legend, [Dickens] drew attention to that repression or elimination of the human faculty of imagination … which he believed was the culturally disastrous effect of governing society according to purely materialistic, empirical criteria of utility (Lodge 408). This repressive Utilitarian work ethic of Coketown inspires an imaginative craving in the townspeople for some relaxation, encouraging good humor and good spirits, a craving that must and would be satisfied aright, or must and would inevitably go wrong, until the laws of the Creation were repealed (Dickens 23). The text here implies that one of its purposes is to stress the importance of an equally balanced social order work/play, reality/fiction, reason/imagination and fully realizes its purposes through the actions of its characters.