Characterization in Dickens's Hard Times

Dickens's art of characterization in Hard Times is one of the important aspects of the novel. His characters are on the one hand symbols on themselves and by the same token they are individual too.

Charles Dickens

Though characterization in Hard Times is taken as one of the important achievement of Dickens to represent the Victorian society he has been charged from two corners. Firstly, he is accused of that he is guilty in his characterization with considerable exaggeration and secondly he does not tell us enough about the inner life of his characters. But we can say that most of his characters and individual human beings each with a life of his own.

Most of the characters in Hard Times are no doubt embodiments of certain ideas and concepts. Most of them have, indeed a symbolic significance in this novel, which has been called a fable or a morality drama. Each character in Hard Times represents something and stands for something. Each is the personification of an abstract principle. And yet we could confidently say that each of the characters is living individual and not merely a typical character.  Gradgrind and Bounderby are clearly and undeniably a personification of what was known as the utilitarian principle in Victorian economy.

He represents the utilitarian principle in its most rigid form in the sphere of education, which is based upon the importance of facts, figures and statistics. He wants to measure the universe with a pair of compass.

Similarly, Gradgrind and Boundary are also characterized sharply distinguished from each other. Though both represent the utilitarian principle both are represented in strikingly different ways. Gardgrind has a certain degree of compassion in his nature, despite his blatant advocacy of facts and figures in comparison to the Bounderby. If we see the characterization of Mrs. Sparsit, Tom and Bitzer, utilitarianism finds the different forms in their characterization. It is difficult to say which of these three specimens the worst is in a moral sense. But there is no doubt that each is widely different from the others and each has his or her own individuality. In this way, the characterization in Dickens’s Hard Times is one of the main concerns in regard to giving the social vision of Victorian society being inside the overall purpose of the novel.