Hard times was published in the heart of the industrial revolution, in 1854, when anything mechanical was at the heart of Britain. Coketown has an uncanny resemblance to Manchester being a Northern town thriving through the industrial revolution; Manchester was once described as Cottonopolis because of the masses of cotton it produced for a world market. In many ways this is the same as Mr Bounderby’s textile factory.
In terms of the social aspect of the industrial revolution it was harsh; people worked for very little wages and lived in tight, cramped conditions often riddled with disease. But for the wealthy this period of time was exciting, innovating and most importantly prosperous. These are the two main binary oppositions in the novel, the division of the rich and the poor.
During this revolution it was not just the industry that was changing but education as well. Predominantly education was the talking point of the Victorian people, with different people having varying views on how children should be taught. Dickens was one of these people; he did not conform to the ideologies of the time especially when it came to education. He believed that children should be taught fiction and reality, rather than just reality. Charles Dickens wrote this book in order to convey to the contrary his ideas of education. Utilitarianism and rationalism were the hallmarks of this period, a utilitarian will provide the greatest good for the greatest number and a rationalist will exclude any metaphysicality from the situation and only focus on the factual element.
Education was regarded as a machine like most practicalities, and the children were just tools that could be welded according to the facts they were taught.
Coketown is the fictional city where Hard times is set, it is portrayed as an average Northern town at the time, which Charles Dickens first describes as ‘a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves forever and ever’. This matches the description of a town of this period, where it has been built up quickly because of the industrial revolution. In addition the alliteration and metaphor used here gives the impression of negativity and deceitfulness because of the reference to the snake and conveys the idea that work never stopped and was an ongoing chore. This point is strengthened by the simile ‘the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.’ This quotation reveals the monotony and tediousness of the day through the effective use of an oxymoron which shows the dissimilarity between what should be happening and what is actually happening.