Workers and the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a time during the 18th and 19th centuries in which major changes occurred in agriculture, textile and metal manufacture, transportation, economic policies and the social structure in Great Britain. Eventually, Russia, Japan, and other non-Western nations adopted some of the technological and social changes of the Industrial Revolution as well (Bahm, Enright, & van Tuyll, 2011). As new technologies were being developed, there were both positive and negative impacts.

The working conditions in factories during the Industrial Revolution were unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane. Workers spent long hours in factories under very harsh working conditions, hence the reason they were called sweatshops.

These harsh working conditions are particularly shown in Jack London’s short story, “The Apostate.” It is important to note that men and women were not the only victims of such harsh working conditions. Children were forced to perform dangerous tasks such as squeezing through machine parts to clean or repair them. In many cases, children were forced to work to provide for their families. Even though child labor was discouraged by many, it wasn’t until later that child labor laws would be passed.

Child labor would soon come to an end with the creation of these laws and the developments of new machinery. In the short story “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens he attempts to warn society of the concerns related to putting an end to human feelings and adopting the new way of the machine. During these times of industrialization, literature played a key role in expressing some of the harsh conditions factory workers were exposed to. Novelists such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Eyre, Jack London, and Charles Dickens were some of the more notable writers during the Industrial Revolution.

As I examine the excerpt from the novel titled, “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens and the excerpt from the novel titled “The Apostate” by Jack London, I am able to appreciate the developments that took place from the earlier stages of the Industrial Revolution to where we are now. While it was a major turning point in our nation’s history that led to great technological advancements, there were also great losses suffered along the way.

I will look to examine the impact the Industrial Revolution had in our history and the developments that were made that got us to where we are today. Considered by many the greatest and most popular English novelist of the 19th century, Charles Dickens was a spokesperson for inhumane working conditions, child labor abuse, and class divisions during the Industrial Revolution.

Born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England, Dickens spent much of his life writing fictional stories about the widespread damaging effects of industrialization on people's lives, often using humor, sentimentality, and memorable characters to gain public sympathy and bring troubling social issues to light (Bahm, Enright, & van Tuyll, 2011). As issues of inequality grew between social classes, Dickens stood as the voice for the poor and their children.

Because Dickens was born into a poverty-stricken life himself, he fought particularly for the lower class and used his abilities as a writer to bring consciousness to his readers about the social injustice taking place during that time. He used his fictional stories to expose the self-interests of the middle and upper class citizens. This was the message he tried to convey to his audience in the novel titled Hard Times (1854).

In a brief account, the story starts off in the in the small industrial community of Coketown. Josiah Bounderby is a rich factory owner and banker who loves to tell everyone about how hard his life was growing up.

His close friend, Thomas Gradgrind is a rich politician and strong activist for education. Gradgrind raises his children, Tom and Louisa, in a nice but strict upbringing. With no guiding principles, Gradgrind’s children are prohibited from being creative, using their imagination or being able to have too many feelings towards anything. When a traveling circus comes to town, one of the clowns abandons his daughter, Sissy Jupe, which Gradgrind would immediately take in as his servant. As Louisa and Tom grow older, Gradgrind basically hands them over to Bounderby.

Tom ends up working for Bounderby as a bank clerk, while Louisa is forced to marry Bounderby. Surprisingly, Gradgrind doesn’t object to the relationship Bounderby shares with his daughter. In Bounderby's factory, there is a worker named Stephen Blackpool. Stephen got married at a very young age to a crazy, alcoholic woman. Although he is married, he is in love with another factory worker named Rachael. About a year later, Louisa is still unhappily married to Bounderby, while Tom is getting into all types of trouble.

Bounderby continues to be unkind and Gradgrind has been elected to Parliament. Meanwhile, the four of them meet a wealthy, good-looking, gentlemen named James Harthouse. Harthouse claims he is trying to get into politics and uses his status to seduce Louisa. At this time, a union has just been established in the factory and all the workers, except Stephen are attempting to get rid of Gradgrind. Since Stephen wanted no parts of their plan, they decided to ignore and exclude him from all their activities. When Bounderby asks Stephen to expose the members for their plan to get rid of Gradgrind, he refuses and Bounderby fires him.

Before he leaves, Louisa gives him some money to hold him over, and Tom asks him to stick around Bounderby's bank for a few nights - he agrees. Coincidently the next morning, Bounderby finds the bank was robbed and all fingers pointed towards Stephen. Soon after, Harthouse would express his love for Louisa and asks her to leave town with him. She agrees but instead of meeting up with him, she takes the train to her father's house in Coketown. When she arrives, she explains to Gradgrind about how bad of a father he was to her and her brother Tom. During the conversation, she also tells him she was in love with Harthouse.

After speaking with his daughter, Gradgrind realizes the hurt he has caused his children. After the conversation, Gradgrind asks Bounderby to let Louisa be a semi-permanent "visitor" at her father's house, but Bounderby is refuses to accept his offer. Hearing this, Sissy seeks out Harthouse, telling him to leave Louisa alone and never come back. While all of this is going on, Sissy and Rachael become worried about Stephen. As they try to find him, they see him lying almost dead.

During his last moments lying on the ground, Stephen maintains his innocence about the robbery, and soon after passes away. It would soon come to light that the bank robber was Tom, which was able to get away with the help of some workers from the circus. Towards the end of the story, the family is discovered by one of Gradgrind's old students, Bitzer. Bitzer offers to capture Tom, only so he can reap the reward.

The story ends with the death of Bounderby. Gradgrind lives to an old age as he attempts to rekindle his relationship with his children. What Dickens was trying to portray during the middle years of his life was the social and economic pressures during the times of the Industrial Revolution. In Dickens novel, he illustrates how humans were on the same pedestal as machines and the dangers associated with humans being brainwashed into believing that.

He does this by undermining the emotions of the children throughout the book. In Chapter 1, Gradgrind makes a statement that illustrates the dehumanization of the children by stating: “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.

Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!” Again, this is a clear representation of how workers were treated as machines and deprived of their rights as human beings. Another pioneer and author who advocated for the working class in America was Jack London.

London was born on January 12, 1876 in San Francisco, CA to two hard working parents. He used his own experiences and struggles to illustrate some of the major issues that were taking place during the times of the Industrial Revolution. Jack London's "The Apostate" is an anti-child labor story that shows the struggles of a young boy who is a factory worker. Although the story is fictional, the events are a real-life example of how young children were treated during times of industrialization.

The Apostate gained national recognition and became a voice in the fight against child labor, and social and economic reform. In a brief account of The Apostate, a boy named Johnny is introduced to the audience. Johnny was raised in a lower class family that was forced to scrape for every meal and every day's wages. The day starts off as Johnny’s mother makes several attempts to wake him up before he actually gets out of the bed. Once he is awoken, his mother feeds him a small breakfast with coffee. As Johnny finished his breakfast, his mother added a piece of her bread to his lunchbox.

This was a time in which children went hungry, and parents went hungry trying to keep their children from going hungry. Knowing he is about to work from before dawn to after dark, he makes his way to work like many other children at the time. It’s important to note that factory workers were just another face, with no meaning – similar to a prisoner with a number. Johnny was ultimately unable to escape his situation for years and had to work to earn money to feed his family.

The turning point of the story was when Johnny became sick. At that point, things were bad and couldn’t get any more worse than they already were. Johnny became physically and mentally worn from the everyday grind. His brother Will and other siblings were treated better than he was and were more favored by their mother than he was.

They were better fed, they were healthier, and went school instead of working in a factory mill. Ultimately, his mother depended on him to take care of the family. But this wouldn’t last long - eventually he grew tired of living the life he was living and decided he wasn't going to work anymore, and that he was just going to rest. In my opinion, this period of rest symbolized the peace and happiness in Johnny’s life given his prior situation and circumstances. Jack London did an excellent job illustrating some of the hardships that the working class faced during the Industrial Revolution and what they did to overcome some of those obstacles.

The struggles faced by Johnny were just a few examples of the working class hardships during this period in time. Johnny’s poor living conditions and hunger, showed just how most child factory workers lived. This was as clear of a picture the audience would get of the lower and working class. During times of the Industrial Revolution, child labor was not regarded as it is today.

Although child labor was discouraged, there were no official laws at the time to prevent it. Connecticut would be the first to pass child labor laws in 1813. Next would be Massachusetts who would pass the first law limiting children 12 and under from working more than 10 hours a day. In 1938, the U.S. would pass a federal law applicable to the entire nation. Prior to these laws, children often worked for 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week, under dangerous conditions, working very hard (Jordan 2004). Factory work greatly affected the lives of men, women, and children especially.

During the Industrial Revolution, factory work served as a form of hard-schooling. The benefit to having child workers was the ability of factories to produce a new generation of adult workers as children grew older. This generation would ultimately improve the quality of adult factory workers (Galbi, D. A. 1997). Although Jack London illustrated the life of child factory work through his eyes, there were many harsh events that were unaccounted for in his novel.

“Imagine yourself as a 5-year-old working in a cold, dark mine, separating rocks from coal. Imagine yourself walking up and down ows of cotton plants in the heat of the summer, bending over to pick the fuzzy white balls of cotton dragging a full, heavy bag behind you”. If you were a child during the Industrial Revolution, you might have spent your days working very hard; doing boring, dangerous, or scary jobs (Jordan 2004).

As you can see, there were many negative and positive aspects of the Industrial Revolution. While it was a major turning point in our nation’s history that led to great technological advancements, there were also great losses suffered along the way. Child labor, social and economic injustice, and inhumane working conditions were just a few of the issues at the turn of the century. I have examined the impact the Industrial Revolution had in our history and the developments that that got us to where we are today.

References Dickens, C. (2001). Hard times [electronic resource] / Charles Dickens. London: Electric Book Co., c2001. Galbi, D. A. (1997). Child Labor and the Division of Labor in the Early English Cotton Mills. Journal of Population Economics, 10(4), 357-375. Jordan, A. (2004). CHILDREN AT WORK. Appleseed’s, 6(5), 20. London, J. (2006). THE APOSTATE. In, When God Laughs: And Other Stories (pp. 12-24). Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. More, C. (2000). Understanding the industrial revolution [electronic resource] / Charles More. London; New York: Routledge, 2000. Van Tuyll, H., Bahm, K., & Enright, K. Historical contexts and literature. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.