Charles Dickens was one of the most prominent writers in English history, and his importance came mostly from the fact that he was willing to tackle the most difficult questions in English society. With that in mind, his writing in Hard Times demonstrates his desire to critique the obsession with logic and rationality in the society around him. He recognized a society that was applying a formulaic approach to ethics and social sciences, and though people believed this to be a way forward, it was Dickens’s belief that the strict adherence to this kind of logic was actually killing the soul of the society’s children. They were at once unable to communicate and relate to others, showing a disturbing lack of empathy in the way of little sociopaths. Hard Times thus presents something of a critique of this element of society, and the way Dickens uses his characters ties the work together. It is structured in a bit of peculiar way. For instances, it features three separate, distinct books, each of which has a name that is reflective of its theme. In “Sowing,” “Reaping,” and “Garnering,” Dickens uses various devices to speak to his overall point that logic and rationality were severely overrated when trying to build English society.

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Dickens uses the character of Sissy in “Sowing” to demonstrate one of the themes of that book. In this first book, Dickens deals with the classic theme that rationality in society had skewed the ability of individuals to understand sowing. People had forgotten that investing in other people was about more than just the laws of economics and rationality. “Sowing” had to be about something more, allowing people to connect with one another and see the humanity in one another, as well. In one incident in the book, Sissy is confronted with questions about what the first principle of science is. The author writes, “After eight weeks of induction into the elements of Political Economy, she had only yesterday been set right by a prattler three feet high, for returning to the question, ‘What is the first principle of this science?’ the absurd answer, ‘To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me” (Dickens). The point there, in this encounter, was that despite the idea that science could provide the basis for understanding physical laws, it could not provide a rational basis for understanding the connection between and among people. Sowing was about seeing beyond the numbers and into the human soul.

In “Reaping,” Dickens discusses the effects of a society that is so obsessed with logic and the proper way to make a dollar that it sells its moral soul. He tells this story through Louisa, who comes face to face with the people she had turned into numbers in her head. Dickens writes of her, “She knew what results in work a given number of them would produce in a given space of time. She knew them in crowds passing to and from their nests, like ants or beetles” (Dickens). She was at this point confronted in a home in Coketown with the reality of who these people were. The way she sees them, though, demonstrates something important about the message of Dickens in the book. The theme of this chapter is that every thing in society has an effect. The effect of the strict adherence to and obsession with logic is that people lose the ability to see each other as human. Louisa has “reaped” the inability to function as a normal human being as a result of her own sowing and the sowing of society at large.

In “Garnering,” the author links characters to the theme of storage. After one has reaped what he has sown, it is time for things to be placed in storage. He describes how the character of Gradgrind comes to learn that some things in society become so hardened and permanent that they cannot be shaken and changed again. “Garnering,” then, is about how society had grown so coarse that its entire values system was hardened into stone. He has Gradgrind make this observation when he writes, “Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter. And if we didn’t get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there” (Dickens). Logic and such in society in this case had become so ugly and pernicious that they made people think that heavy could only be worthy it if adhered to the laws of economics. It had taken over and stolen the very soul of society. He uses this encounter for the character to suggest if society goes far enough down this particular road, there is no coming back, as the soul of the place would be forever hammered in stone.

Ultimately the author has presented a clear picture of his feelings on the nature of logic in society. The story itself is one about a society that has lost its ways even though it was obsessed with finding its way. The people of that society were so obsessed with getting the economics of every matter right that they forgot to consider the elements of life that are not defined by the laws of economics. In each book, with different characters, the author traces the development of a society that slowly takes itself into the gutter in a desire to produce more and more wealth.