By definition, Capitalism means a system in which trade and industry, are controlled by private owners for profit.

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Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was both a writer and social reform critic, but was no revolutionary. Dickens, aged ten and his family moved to London due to financial problems where they lived in a poor neighbourhood. Dickens began his working life at the age of twelve in a warehouse blacking shoes to gain money for his family. This experience in factory had a significant psychological and sociological effect on him he paints a grim view of the rise of capitalism and its dehumanizing effects on workers during the industrial revolution . He was strongly critical, too, of the poor/if any education working class children received and he believed that capitalism was to blame for all the ills brought about by industrialization.

In 1837, when Queen Victoria took the throne 80% of the British population were rurally based by the middle of the century this had changed dramatically when 50% now lived in towns and cities. Men, women and children had to work in factories or coal mines. The pay was low, the hours were long and the working conditions were unsafe and there were no holidays. Most owners placed profits well above the safety and well-being of the workers. Employees were dismissively called “hands”.

Dickens regarded, perhaps too simplistically, most capitalists as unfeeling, greedy and grasping for money, with no interest in their workers welfare at all. For him, most had little, if any, morality at all. In the novel, Dickens depicts a harrowing scene of capitalists accommodating the influx of new workers in slums, and over-crowding and disease was the norm. Dickens was well aware of the harsh conditions and long hours experienced by factory workers, from his own experience he knew these dehumanizing effects of the capitalistic system on workers. The main capitalist portrayed in the novel is one Josiah Boundersby who is primarily interested in making money, and gaining power. In relation to industrialization in Victorian Britain he represents the changes created by industrialization and the growth in capitalism, and its effects, in Britain which Dickens so deplored. Dickens saw his workers in a life of drudgery and poverty with no fresh air to breathe due to pollution. In Dickens view, in the novel, is that the growth of capitalists like Boundersby were destroying workers lives, and working class society, in their quest for money which prevailed over any morals over workers and their families lives and welfare.

Capitalism in Hard times takes a pounding from Dickens. The novel was intended as a wake up call for social reformers and society in Britain and as such achieved it’s aim. However, it would be wrong to describe all capitalists as being like Boundersby, some had a genuine interest in their workers welfare and well-being although the portrayal in Hard Times of capitalistic factory owners is not untypical of the times when it was written.