Coketown is quite literally the ‘town of coke’, the raw material used to convert iron to steel and indirectly the foundation of the ‘steel/industrial revolution’. It is critical to analyze the name of the city for Dickens’ Hard Times is a satirical caricature on the condition of England in the 19th century. Dickens uses language as a powerful tool to put across his points or rather his ‘facts’. The inhabitants of Coketown have only one function, namely to work. Coketown is a city that feeds no needs besides what is useful there are no recreational areas etc.
but only the brutal facts of working life. Speaking generally the city represents the negative effects Industrial Revolution and philosophic theories such as Utilitarianism and “the mercantile doctrine of Laissez-faire under which England’s factory system had flourished” (Allingham) have on the people. This situation is allegorized in the scene where Bitzer, the allegory of fact, chases Sissy, who represents imagination since she belongs to the circus, through Coketown. ” COKETOWN, TO WHICH MESSRS.
Bounderby and Gradgrind now walked, was a triumph of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs. Gradgrind herself. Let us strike the key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune. It was a town of red brick or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.
It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon
the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next. ” Through the use of metaphorical language, and a repetition much like what industry seems to represent the author brings across the point that society is often a reflection of what occurs because as industry mechanizes work, it mechanizes the lives of people as well, which is said in a rather melancholic tone.
Dickens makes it explicitly clear that Coketown often compared to Preston and Manchester, is city where everything is alike. There is an inherent lack of uniqueness be it among the buildings, the avenues or the people. The sameness of the town further seems to highlight the ‘factual’ or mechanised construction of the place. It is dull and listless, oblivious to the concerns of it is inhabitants and is forever shrouded in a haze which makes look even more despondent. The uncanny deficiency of colour in the city further signifies the lack of vivacity and individuality.
Colour symbolisms are used to describe Coketown in terms of red and black, these indicate not only the environmental damage brought about by industrialization, but also the loss of people’s independence, joy and vitality in their town. In chapter five the reader gets to know a dull and dirty brick city. The bricks, just like Gradgrind’s home ‘Stone Lodge’, are a sign of the rigidity of the system and are in sheer contrast to imagination. Coketown is the juxtaposition of similarity versus difference.
Not only do the buildings of Coketown look alike (“The jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail”), the streets look alike, too; just as the people look and act alike -Coketown is “inhabited by people equally like one another”, people “who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.
” The uniformity shows that under a utilitarian system the concept of morality becomes doubtful (the jail, a place of punishment looks like a hospital, a place where people are helped), and people are reduced to qualities which make them useful, in this case work. At the beginning of the chapter the city is compared to Mrs. Gradgrind: “[The city] had no greater fancy in it than Mrs. Gradgrind herself”. While this imparts to the town the qualities of a living being, therefore turning it into something even more threatening, on the other hand
it seems to highlight that Mrs. Gradgrind just like her husband degrades herself to something ugly and loathsome because of the lack of imagination. Further Coketown is likened to savages, which shows that Coketown is alien to but contrariwise also part of the system: “It was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage”. Coketown can be seen as a colony – a place that is exploited for the needs of the colonizers. The factories are the places where the labour of Coketown is subjugated.
There tedious work is carried out; the machines are compared to elephants: “the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness”. The image of an elephant again evokes the feeling that the factories are exotic, alien places, and illustrates the large, threatening size of the machinery. The work is in its monotony obviously unnatural (“melancholy madness”). The factories are also compared to fairy palaces for they light up at night which is ironic considering fairies are creatures of imagination and not of fact.
Dickens also uses metaphors to describe the city, such as the “serpents of smoke” are a metaphor for the smoke trailing out of the factory chimneys. It is an obvious allusion to the bible, since Dickens also could have used the neutral word ‘snake’. In contrast ‘serpent’ evokes the fall of mankind and therefore a negative and diabolic image. Unfortunately, the serpents “never got uncoiled”, which means that the labourers are caught in the constant circle of exploitation.
Dickens depicts in Hard Times how a world where society strives for the greater good for the greatest number could look like in the worst case; the labourers of Coketown suffer because the English economy as a whole benefits from their work. Eventually one comes to realise that Coketown isn’t indeed a city but rather the platform for the workings out of Gradgrind’s philosophy or ‘gradgrindery’. The term gardgrindery is used as synonymous to drudgery as everyone in Coketown has to constantly work to not only eke out a living but also to survive.
Gradgrind “a man of facts and calculations, a man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into for allowing for anything over “ believes in a strict utilitarian philosophy thus eliminating the need for all things that are not productive. Similarly in Coketown the atmosphere is such that there is no space for people who would idle away their time. Through such declarations, Dickens makes it evident that Gradgrind emphasizes only that which is derived from pure fact.
Additionally, Gradgrind feels anything not in total compliance with factual evidence to be the product of frivolity and fancy, two most loathsome evils. In his opinion, emotions and imagination are weaknesses, wholly unnecessary in civilized society. Coketown, a foggy dinghy place leaves little to the imagination further drawing parallel with Gradgrind’s philosophy. This can also be seen as a little ironic considering that Gradgrind is trying to inculcate these principles in a ‘civilized’ city which is initially compared to a colony of savages.
This description also accentuates Gradgrind’s mechanization. From the onset of the novel, he is characterized to be devoid of feelings, the very trait that defines humanity. Dickens stresses this dehumanization as an ideal of industrialism, thus highlighting Gradgrind’s assumptions that removing what he deems to be fanciful thought and practice creates a more productive individual. As such we see that Coketown is full of industries with pistons moving like the heads of mad elephants and constructed with careful planning which causes everything to look similar.
Mechanisation indicates mass production which imparts to the products a ‘sameness’, in the same way Coketown has mechanised it’s streets and it’s people so much so that even teachers that teach Gradgrind’s school of thought are also said to be mass produced. As the novel progresses, it becomes evident that Gradgrind’s inflexible obsession with facts is meant to be indicative of industrialism in the nineteenth century. Dickens creates Gradgrind’s philosophy as a reflection of the mentality of factory owners.
While factory owners may view heaps of human workers as worth nothing more than the net monetary gain they produce, Gradgrind similarly may view the worth of a classroom of children by their ability to accurately define terms. It is clear that neither assumption is truly ethical or correct. By applying utilitarian theories typical of industrialization to everyday life, Dickens is able to showcase their fallibilities. He hopes to create a parallel in which the obvious aspects of ridiculous in Gradgrind’s theories are united with remarkably similar outlooks on industrialist utilitarianism in Coketown.
The regimented, militaristic mentality of his educational techniques produces or attempts to produce the human equivalent of mechanical robots, the creation of emotionless and mechanical, trained human beings that never question or wonder about the workings of the universe: “Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating the reason without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything somehow and never wonder.
” In a similar way the workers of Coketown are urged to unfalteringly adhere to the social norms and never question their treatment. Dickens at various points in the novel makes direct comparisons between the children and the workers reinforcing Gradgrind’s policies and bringing out a co-relation between the two. He seeks to demonstrate a master slave relationship, a dependence and unquestioning submissiveness. Architecture of the city is based on fact, therefore fact becomes a trope for Coketown.
Thus we can conclude that the case made against the unimaginative, factual education is critique against the conditions of Coketown. The city becomes the subject of satire in as much as it becomes the representative of the human interactions which always fall short of the ideal. The fact that Gradgrind’s system in end turns out to be a failure (“.. the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system lying an insensible heap, at his feet”) is also significant to the fate of Coketown for Dickens seems to imply that the industrial city will crumble to heaps in the same way if it is not reformed in time.