Utilitarianism In Charles Dickens What Does It Matter?

Brendon Kenney

Dr. Hansen

BLS 301

27 April 2015

What does it Matter? In Hard Times, Charles Dickens explores several themes that he believed adversely affected both the individual in particular and society in general in Victorian England. Following what Thomas Carlyle had termed the “Condition of England Question,” Dickens focuses on the physical, mental, and spiritual oppression of the people, both wealthy and poor, as a result of the prevailing philosophy of the era, Utilitarianism. This philosophy, in turn, influenced the educational system of England at the time, resulting in an education built upon the strict foundation of knowledge of hard facts while denying the importance of fancy or the development of imagination.
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Through the strict utilitarian style championed by Thomas Gradgrind and taught by M’Choakumchild to the children of Coketown, he attempts to show the faults of an educational system devoid of creative development, one in which the imagination is stifled while rote memorization of facts and figures becomes the primary method of education. We see the affects of this rigid system manifest throughout the novel, in the emotionally detached and robotic Bitzer, the unscrupulous and immoral actions of Thomas Gradgrind, Jr., and the well-intentioned yet emotionally incompetent Louisa. Dickens also depicts the lasting effects of Utilitarian thought on individuals across the spectrum of society. Utilitarian ideals are evidenced in members of the upper class, most notably Thomas Gradgrind and Josiah Bounderby, both of whom are undone by their allegiances, and the impact of this philosophy upon those in the lower working classes is witnessed in Rachel and Stephen Blackpool, who suffer despite their inherent good

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