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martedì 28 aprile 2015

Letteratura inglese - Charles Dickens - Analysis of two passages taken from Hard Times


2. The syntax and sound (in lines 13-18) of the description of Coketown evokes the idea that people are part of a mindless mechanical process. They are like clogs in a machine. They are like mindless units in the industrial process. This part of the passage also shows that industrialization reduces people to an undifferentiated mass in which they lose their individualità: everybody is the same, people become more and more like each other. This passage suggests that the industrial process reduces life to a machine. It is the triumph of the machine over the human being. Coketown is described as a drab, dreary and monotonous place where the streets are indistinguishable from one another and the utilitarian philosophy can be seen even in the design of the buildings. Everything has to be functional, because Coketown is a place only for work and nothing else. In line 5 Dickens compares Coketown to a savage, in line 7 he compares the smoke coming out of the chimneys to serpents. In lines 11-13 he compares the piston of the steam-engine to the head and trunk of a mad elephant. In the first part of the passage Dickens describes objects as if they were alive and people as if they were objects (as if they were clogs in a piece of machinery). He uses this literary device in order to show how far the brutalization of towns caused by the industrial process affects the inner life of people. The buildings and the machinery of Coketown have a life of their own and are depicted as savages, serpents and mad elephants. This imagery suggests that the town has gone out of control. It has been taken over by the industrial process and has become at the same time alien and aggressive.
2. By drawing comparisons between the town and the jungle he conveys the idea of the monotony of the lives of the workers. He suggests how powerful and dangerous the process of industrialization is. It is dangerous because it disfigures the town and it makes people’s life monotonous and characterized just by work and material things.
6. Coketown: “coke” is a type of coal which was used in the industrial towns in England. Most of these towns were blackened because of the coke they consumed. M’Choakumchild suppressed the creativity of the children.

Dickens went to Preston (Lancashire) on occasion of a strike that had been going on for some time and the result of this visit in an article entitled On Strike. Coketown is a town devoid of individuality and is repetitive. It is lacking in warmth and imagination. The mechanical system of the town is reflected in its architecture and layout. It is anonymous. It is characterized by drabness and anonymity. The mechanical character of the town has been carried into every aspect of the place (into education, religion and people’s life). People are depicted as if they were machine-like. Dickens uses certain metaphors: the metaphor of the savages, serpents and also elephants underline that the industrial process is no longer under control, it has become aggressive. 
Lines 43-49: the words ending this paragraph (“world without end, Amen”) echo the religious language of the Book of Common Prayer (a book published in 1549 after the break with Rome). These words echo the words in the Gloria. Allusions to religious language are an ironical device and they are very common in Hard Times. They imply that Christian faith has been lost. It has been replaced by the economic creed of utilitarians, the law of buying goods on the cheapest market and selling them on the dearest. Dickens was against industrialization in that he thought that it was a prime source of social evils, it was a root cause of collective and individual social and religious problems. It was a root cause of problems that affected both society and the individual.
Lines 44-45:  “Choakumchild” means “soffoca quel bambino”. Hard Times is a parody of Utilitarian education. Utilitarians believed that a good education should be based only on facts and that imagination and creativity were not to be developed in children. Mr Gradgrind’s educational methods are based on utilitarian theories. He has a very rational mind. He thinks that only facts should be provided to children and his only wish is to suppress their imagination and creativity. Education and the way in which it should be handled was a subject for debate for the whole of the first half of the 19th century and it was still going on in Dickens’ time. Hard Times can be seen as Dickens’ critical response to the government-funded training college for teachers which laid great emphasis on the acquisition of factual knowledge and didn’t develop the creativity of the pupils. Dickens believed that this kind of education was brutal, short-sighted and also damaging to the inner development of a child. The name of the teacher (M’Choakumchild) of Coketown’s school sums up the effect he had on his pupils. It indicates that in Gradgrind’s school it was impossible to express ideas freely and in a personal way. Dickens was in favor of what he called “fancy”, that is to say creative imagination. He believed that it was a positive force because it was both healing and redeeming. 

  1. The similes used in the speaker’s physical description create an image of a mentally rigid man, cold and authoritarian, who wants to suppress his pupils’ creative imagination. 
  2. The emphasis on squareness (lines 8 and 19) suggests an impression of monotony and a level-headed solidity in which there is no space for imagination. His mouth and his voice also convey the idea of his mental rigidity. He believes that only facts are necessary in life and wants the children under him to learn only facts. The emphasis placed on facts indicates a lack of emphasis attached to imagination. Gradgrind is a parody and an exaggeration. Through Gradgrind Dickens attacks the intellectuals of his time who lived by utilitarian principles. Utilitarianism is a political, social and economic philosophy which reduced all values to utility. Everything has to be valued on the principle of its utility, that is to say, the greatest good it achieves for the greatest number of people. This philosophy is ascribed to Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, but it is based on philosophies developed in the 18th century at the time of the industrial revolution as a means of coping with population growth and the influx of large numbers of people into towns. 
  3. The tense which ironically underlines the speaker’s concept of education is the imperative. There is also humor in the way in which Gradgrind is described, for example his bald head is depicted as the crust of a plum pie.
Dickens uses the repetition of words and syntax (“the emphasis was helped”) and also similes (lines 16-17). Through these literary devices he conveys the idea of an authoritarian and ugly man. The word “square” conveys the idea of a man with a strong rational mind who doesn’t believe in  creativity and imagination. He is in a classroom and there is a lesson in progress. He is speaking to his pupils and to Mr M’Choakumchild. The first paragraph where Mr Gradgrind says that his pupils need only facts expresses Dickens satire against the new state of education, including the new training collages for teachers. Mr Choakumchild is a young teacher who has just finished his training and Mr Gradgrind thinks it is necessary to insist on the principles of Utilitarianism applied to education.
The Aesthetic Movement can be seen as an attempt to revive and even strengthen the values which had been disregarded for several decades. Writers and artists who belonged to the Aesthetic Movement hoped that by reviving these values and by broadening the horizons of the English society, England would experience again the splendors of the Renaissance. (To broaden horizons means to help people realize that there isn’t only productivity and profit in life, there are also spiritual and cultural values which enrich our inner life.) The exponents of the Aesthetic Movement believed that by cultivating art and beauty they would be able to revive and strengthen values which had been neglected for many decades and that Europe would be able to experience again the splendors it knew in the Renaissance.

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