The head is the factory where linear facts are passed down brain cells to form packaged products: our loveless actions. On the contrary, the heart is the circus where non-linear performers dance and sing and clown around to ultimately win the love of the audience. But as the men of reason themselves have shown us, the heart is truly in the head, as the heart is only a pumping organ and the head has the true capacity to love.
In Hard Times, Charles Dickens explores the causes and consequences of both head-heavy, linear thinking and of heart-heavy, non-linear thinking through symbolism and the vivid characterization and progression of several characters to ultimately convey that a balance of both fact and fancy, social and natural order, is needful for a fulfilling life.
Due to the influence of social order, Gradgrind establishes a home based solely on facts, restricting his wife and his children from using their hearts and being fanciful.
Gradgrind grew up in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, a time where the “ascendancy of the clock and the machine tore [man] from nature.” Believing that social order was solely the foundation of life, he establishes a home called Stone Lodge, a name symbolic of how his family is dull and lacks loving relationships between members. When Louisa was young, he father told her to never wonder, indicative of how Gradgrind influenced his children to follow facts from the beginning. Tom and Louisa are both dissatisfied with their lives and “[peep] with all their might through a hole in a deal board” towards a circus; they attempt to cross the threshold towards a life of fancy but are reprimanded by Mr.
Gradgrind before they can explore the heart-heavy wilderness (19).
Mrs. Gradgrind further yells, “Go and be somethingological directly,” indicating that she is so brainwashed by facts that she believes he children must always be studying, as if they were machines. Mrs. Gradgrind is described as “a small female figure without enough light behind it,” where the diction “figure” illustrates how he her personality has been worn down by hard facts and “without enough light” symbolizes how she has no spirit (23). She is controlled by “Mr. Gradgrind’s eye . . . that wintry piece of fact [causing her to] become torpid again,” indicative of how she is so blind to her identity that she can only see through her husband’s eye to see a world of fact (68). Mr. Gradgrind later informs Louisa that Bounderby seeks her hand in marriage, and when she asks what her response should be, he says, “Confining yourself rigidly to Fact, the question of Fact you state to yourself is: Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him? Yes, he does” (101). Even on the most fanciful subject of marriage, Mr. Gradgrind teaches his daughter to approach a decision using facts. Thus Mr. Gradgrind, the epitome of linear thinking, approaches all life situations as a matter of fact; he not only spreads his approach to his children but also advocates the “education of the mind” in his school.
Mr. Gradgrind’s fact-based school molds head-heavy children and expels the heart-heavy; furthermore, his style of parenting greatly contrasts with Jupe’s and cannot compare with Sleary’s, symbolizing the consequences of extreme fact, fancy, and a balance of both. Bitzer is a student who places his fist on his head symbolic of how he only sees facts, in fact he rapidly blinks “with both eyes at once” indicating that he has trouble viewing the world with his limited fact-based perspective (12). On the contrary, Sissy is the daughter of Signor Jupe, a circus performer, and she is so fanciful that she is expelled. Jupe soon abandons Sissy, and his action parallels how Gradgrind mistreats his own children. Although Jupe and Gradgrind both have paternal love for their children, Jupe non-linearly sees leaving Sissy as the way to provide for her while Gradgrind linearly sees overprotecting his children as the way to provide for them. Gradgrind and Sissy go to the circus to look for he father, and Gradgrind dislikes circus entertainers who perceived as being blind, as “they cared so little for Fact, and were in an advanced state of degeneracy” (43).
They meet Mr. Sleary, a wise advisor who satirically looks like a fool but has both “the fixed eye of Philosophy” and “a rolling eye too,” which help him see linearly and non-linearly. Unlike Jupe and Sissy who are too fanciful and Gradgrind and Bitzer who are too factual, Mr. Sleary has a balance that allows him to give Sissy good advice: follow facts at the Stone Lodge, obey the Gradgrind’s contract, and temporarily forget the fanciful circus. He supports her time with Mr. Gradgrind because he wants her to develop an education of the mind so she too can attain balance in her life. Mr. Slearly himself has asthma symbolizing how his breath, his spirit, is slowly being polluted by the smog of the Industrial Revolution symbolic of extremely linear thinking. Mr. Sleary also informs Mr. Gradgrind, “People must be amuthed, Thquire, thomehow . . . they can’t alwayth be a-working, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a –learning. Make the betht of uth” (47). Mr. Sleary explains that people need a balance of both work and play, fact and wonder in their lives, but Mr. Gradgrind does not stumble upon this realization until it is far too late.
Louisa is distraught in her loveless marriage and Mr. Gradgrind ultimately realizes his mistake in emphasizing solely head-heavy education; Harthouse, who has no heart or head, and Tom, whose heart is weak, both symbolize the consequences of unbalanced thinking. Bounderby thinks in a solely factual way similar to Mr. Gradgrind, however, Bounderby has poor intentions and thus never comes to the realization that fancy is needful as well (33). Tom also is too factual and in a similar way, his heart is weak and corrupt meaning that he lacks a sense of morality. Tom robs a bank and frames his heinous crime on an innocent man, illustrating the consequences that arise without an education of the heart.
Harthouse, despite his mask of a teacher at Gradgrind’s school, has no interest in the education of the mind. He confesses his “fancy” for Louisa but does not truly love her, as if he did, he would not toy with her emotions and force her to leave Bounderby for him. Harthouse represents another failed man who has no head and no heart, views life without linear or non-linear thinking. When Sissy tells him to leave Louisa alone, Harthouse is appalled by “the childlike ingenuousness with which his visitor spoke, her modest fearlessness, her truthfulness which put all artifice aside” (235). Harthouse is shocked by Sissy’s fearlessness and truthfulness because those are two qualities that he does not have; Harthouse has no head or heart so he uses artifice and feeds off trickery. Louisa struggles under the fingers of both Harthouse and Bounderby, and reaches her breaking point when she to Mr. Gradgrind and he realizes, “I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient” (228). Unlike Boundery, Mr. Gradgrind always had good intentions, and thus he can realize his mistakes in only pursuing one system of education.
Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa come to understand that a balance of both fact and fancy are needful with the direct help of Sissy and the indirect influence of Bitzer. Sissy has become a positive force in the household; she has brought love into the hearts of the other Gradgrind children, namely Jane who has a “better and brighter face” (202). After Gradgrind and Louisa discuss his mistakes in parenting, Louisa cries “Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart” (231). Louisa lays her head upon Sissy’s heart, symbolic of how she attempts to see both linearly and non-linearly. When Tom commits a crime, Gradgrind is forced to use the help of the circus to hide his son, but Gradgrind no longer views the circus as foolish but recognizes its good emphasis on the heart. Ironically, Bitzer, a disciple of Gradgrind himself, arrives at the circus with the intention of turning Tom in. Gradgrind tries to stop Bitzer only to self-effacingly realize that his own school is responsible for Bitzer’s lack of “compassionate influence” (289). Gradgrind confesses to Bitzer that his education system was flawed; however, Bitzer cannot understand the meaning of love, compassion, and forgiving Tom for his crimes and is thus forever blinded by reason.
Although Gradgrind and Louisa are not blinded by reason, they live the rest of their lives struggling to see through eyes of fancy; Tom realizes the meaning of love far too late and is robbed of a fulfilling life; Sissy, who has attained a balance of both fact and fancy, leads the happiest life. Bounderby lives only for a few more years and his wealth is then distributed to the people who actually deserve it; his ill fate depicts the repercussions of living life with the narrow factual vision. Gradgrind, on the other hand, “makes his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity” and attempts to bring education of the heart to Parliament; however, he is only taunted and struggles throughout the rest of his life. Sissy has attained the desired balance of both fact and fancy and thus is happy and has happy children and lives a fulfilling life. Tom writes a letter to Louisa saying “that all the treasures in the world would be cheaply bartered for a sight of her dear face,” illustrating that he has come to see that his mischievous ways had no place and that he now loves Louisa as a brother should (299). Alas, he dies on the journey to see Louisa and is thus robbed of fulfilling life, indicating that he came to realize he needed a balance far too late. Louisa “grows learned in childish lore,” meaning she confronts and accepts the piece of her, her heart, that was never nurtured. She helps raises Sissy’s children “as a duty to be done,” indicative of how she still has not achieved a balance of her life (300).
Charles Dickens charts the development of several major characters in Hard Times to conclude that the only characters who have can see through both fact and fancy are successful.