To What Extent Does the Language in Hard Times, Major Barbara and Thomas Hardy: the Complete Poems, Degrade Humanity and for What Reason?
“I assert without exaggeration that no power of language could describe the varieties, and I may say the cruelties, in all the degradations of human form [in the factories]” – Parliamentary debate on Workers’ Conditions April 1879. To what extent does the language in Hard Times, Major Barbara and Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, degrade humanity and for what reason? The motives of Charles Dickens, Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy for presenting humanity as degraded, through their language, differ significantly.
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While the texts, which when taken as isolated pieces of literature contain mutual themes of reduction and belittlement, could be viewed as works produced by three similar authors, they are in fact written to very different ends. Dickens and Shaw are paradoxically great believers in ‘humanity’, but find themselves disillusioned with the state they find it in; thus, the physical degradation seen in Hard Times and the moral degradation seen in Major Barbara is designed to highlight and exaggerate what they believe is wrong with society.
Hardy, however, as a great lover of the natural world, can be viewed as having a genuine despair for humanity, believing it is beyond repair. While it is important to primarily focus on the extent to which language presents humanity as degraded in these works, this can not be done effectively without an understanding of the authors’ moral pretexts.
Indeed, it is equally critical to have an awareness of the time at which these three texts were produced; Shaw was only 14 years old when Dickens died and was writing amid a growing fear of war, a fear which would be realised just seven years after Major Barbara was published. Hardy, meanwhile, went on to write several war poems, thus making it too simplistic to claim he and Shaw had an identical disapproval of the capitalist, industrialised world, regardless of the textual similarities, primarily because they were writing on opposite sides of a World War.
In spite of this, there is little doubt that Shaw and Hardy came from a similar school of thought; indeed Stuart Baker’s statement that, “Shaw believed that one of the worse effects of poverty was to maim souls beyond redemption, but nourished bodies do not necessarily produce flourishing souls,” has an uncanny similarity to Joanna Cullen Brown’s assertion that, “Hardy saw everywhere the eterioration of human values and relationships as humanity became increasingly enslaved by its own inventions and its own moral lawlessness. ” Brown, however, also claims that, “after the war, Hardy gave up all belief in the gradual ennoblement of man,” thereby demonstrating how the authors’ individual experiences will have moulded the different, albeit similar, ideologies which are imparted in the morally, physically and spiritually degrading language seen in Hard Times, Major Barbara and Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems.
While it would be easy to suggest that Hardy disliked the industrialising world simply because it was not compatible with his love of nature, his poem The Convergence of the Twain demonstrates his disapproval towards certain aspects of humanity and society’s response to mechanisation. Ian Ousby, a former lecturer at Durham University, wrote that Hardy was preoccupied by ideas of fate and destiny, and that, “his natural tendency was to see the world in terms of juxtaposition and contrast, and this led inevitably to a fascination with meetings, with the sudden blind convergence of disparate objects or people.  Therein lies Hardy’s degraded humanity – in his eyes, events are predetermined – or the ‘Immanent Will’ as he describes it – which renders human input worthless. Superficially the poem is about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, but the sexual language he uses to describe it clearly indicates an inevitable collision of man and nature. He describes the iceberg as the ship’s ‘mate’ and describes their collision as an ‘intimate welding’.
The poem expresses a wider cynicism towards machinery and the naivety of those seeking to use it to conquer nature. This is apparent from the second line of the first stanza, where the sunken ship is described as ‘deep from human vanity’, and is further emphasised in the eighth stanza, “And as the smart ship grew/In stature, grace, and hue/In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too. ” The ship is described using seemingly impressive adjectives, but ‘stature’ and ‘hue’ are, in reality, qualities which lack substance.
The encapsulation of ‘grace’, a biblical attribute, by two superficial characteristics produces a degrading effect as it emphasises that humanity has lost sight of religion and faith in the wake of steel and iron. In contrast, the strength and might of the iceberg does not need to be described as no qualitative language could do so effectively. Hardy makes it quite clear that nature will always come out on top when it is confronted by man-made industry; the grand decoration of the Titanic is described as ‘lightless… sparkles bleared and black and blind’, ruined by the ocean.
On a symbolic level, Ousby concludes that The Convergence of the Twain “is simply one of those cosmic rebukes to human ambition that Hardy always records with a mixture of wistful regret and grim satisfaction. ”3 Shaw had equally strong views on human efforts and ambitions; however, he presents humanity as degraded not because events are predetermined, but because of an inherent flaw within society that is, unlike with Hardy, a problem that can be solved.
In keeping with his socialist views, he claimed that, “if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the big organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself. ” The character of Andrew Undershaft in Major Barbara, despite being a strong advocate of capitalism, embodies this belief – he sees the literal degradations of society as one of humanity’s greatest failings; “here are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people.
They poison us morally and physically: they kill the happiness of society. ” Stuart Baker, however, believes Undershaft’s disgust for the lower echelons of the class system is not borne out of a selfless, moral concern for society, saying; “make no mistake, when Undershaft says that poverty and slavery are crimes, he means that the pauper and the slaves are criminals. By accepting the degradation society has imposed on them they are guilty of unspeakable sins. ”1 Dickens was a great believer in humanity and he abhorred what he perceived to be its reduction and degradation during the mid-1800s.
In addition to the physical impacts of industrialisation, which are reflected in his description of Coketown as; “a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothing but masses of darkness,” Dickens was particularly disgusted by the reduction of individual thought, or ‘fancy’, into rigid facts and nothing else, a belief substantiated by Phillip Allingham’s assertion that; “above all, Dickens ridiculed the typical bureaucratic mentality which substituted scientific accuracy for imaginative reality and that fancies were beneath contempt.  Dickens primarily uses a technique of free indirect discourse to allow his personal thoughts to permeate into the text, which differs greatly to the methods used by Shaw and, to a lesser degree, Hardy. By maximising his role as the omniscient narrator, passages such as; “not all the calculators of the National debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent…of one of these quiet servants,” allow the moral framework of the novel to be dictated solely by the author himself.
Literary theorist David Lodge believes that this technique; “is a deviation from strict grammar and strict logic, and thus perhaps comparable to the more obvious non-logical linguistic features of poetry,” which would suggest that Dickens and Hardy share a similar method of expression. Where they differ, however, is when Hardy expresses his opinions and emotions by writing in the first person, as demonstrated by A Broken Appointment, and in particular by the lines, “Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum/You did not come. When Dickens is not intruding into the text, he uses the character of Louisa Gradgrind to encapsulate his own frustrations. While at the start of the novel she seems emotionally sterile and possessing little desire to express her own personal ‘fancy’, her involvement in the plot culminates in a rare disclosure to her father that reveals her deep unhappiness. When Louisa asks her father, Thomas Gradgrind; “Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed? she allows him to see for the first time that individual thought is not “destructive nonsense,” as he had earlier described it, thus allowing Dickens’ argument to be advocated by the characters. Shaw uses this technique with much more regularity – as opposed to free indirect discourse – and as observed by Stuart Baker; “develops issues…using a triad of characters representing a range of approaches to a particular ethical of social problems,”1 to impart his own personal beliefs in the play.
The creation of a moral debate within Major Barbara allows several points of view to be explored in depth, which Baker adds; “avoids a simple dichotomy that would tempt us to see the issues as opposites of right and wrong. ”1 While the techniques of Shaw and Dickens are relatively different, they are equally effective in presenting humanity as degraded. Hardy’s war poetry raises two interesting points; firstly, that the loss of life through war stems from degraded humanity, and secondly, that the concept of war itself is intrinsically flawed.
Drummer Hodge provides a particularly effective illustration of the former and The Man he Killed the latter. It is important to distinguish between Hardy’s war poetry and ‘traditional’ war poetry; in fact, Samuel Hynes believes the two are mutually exclusive, because, “the customary trappings of war are all missing; no arms, no armies, no generals, no cannons, no victories, no defeats. The last Victorian war poems of the last Victorian war have no war in them.  Drummer Hodge received great swathes of criticism upon its publication, primarily because of its dehumanising language – the opening lines concentrate on the lack of mourning for Hodge’s death, which provides a stark contrast to the traditional glorification of the war dead. Rupert Brooke used this poem as inspiration for his widely-celebrated The Soldier, but Hardy’s Hodge is not buried with the same dignity as Brooke’s – he does not make some corner of a foreign field forever England.
He has instead been buried in an ‘unknown plain’, underneath ‘strange-eyed constellations’ and his ‘homely Northern breast will grow to some Southern tree’. It is interesting, however, to note that, while Hodge’s death will never receive the recognition it deserves, it is the landscape, or in other words the natural world, that values him most – a fact in-keeping with much of Hardy’s other poetry. As a pacifist, it is not surprising that Hardy took a disapproving view of war, and looked upon the ordinary soldier as a victim of other men’s cruelty.
Consequentially, “while other poets wrote of the sights and smells of the battle, Hardy concentrated on the aftermath, pointing out the broken body of Hodge, lying almost unnoticed, a victim of a madness that should have been dispensed with years before. ” The Man he Killed focuses on the pointlessness of war and how it forces humans to put aside their natural instincts of peace and friendship to fight for a cause that many of them do not believe in.
The final stanza of this poem questions the concept of war as a logical method of solving disputes; “Yes; quaint and curious war is/You shoot a fellow down/You’d treat, if met where any bar is/Or help to half a crown. ” The colloquial diction used by Hardy to discuss such a severe issue helps to draw out his concerns for humanity. The flippancy of war enrages him because it degrades humans to barbaric levels; nd Tim Kendall comments that the man described in this poem has been; “desensitized by war, rendering him unable to weigh up the significance of his actions. ” Shaw analyses a similar moral degradation in Major Barbara as Hardy does through his war poetry. As previously alluded to, he does this through his characters, rather than via authorial intrusion into the text. This, however, is not unusual as Major Barbara is a prime example of one of Shaw’s dialectic plays.
He constructs a moral contrast between Undershaft and Barbara to illustrate his degraded view of humanity and, according to the author himself, the former is; “a man who has become intellectually, spiritually and practically conscious of the natural truth which we all abhor and repudiate. ” That statement is echoed by Undershaft himself, who when defending his cut-throat approach to business, says; “the history of the world is the history of those who had the courage to embrace this truth. ”
Grahame Smith’s assertion that, “Dickens’ vision of the world was conditioned by what he saw as the degrading power of money and the personal alienation that stemmed from it,” accounts to some degree for the author’s choice of motifs and symbols that are commonplace in Hard Times. At the core of the novel is Dickens’ belief that humans, as a result of industrialisation, have been mechanised, leading to the reduction of individual thought and emotion – a debate which is presented in the text as ‘fact’ versus ‘fancy’.
The character of Gradgrind is the advocate of facts, and though she does not realise it immediately, Louisa ultimately resents her rigid upbringing and seeks instead a life of fancy. Dickens critiques the fickleness of those who base their beliefs solely on facts, as is demonstrated by the incredulity of Bounderby’s claim that, “taste is only another name for fact,” – demonstrating what he saw as an inherent contradiction amongst industrialists.
Dickens’ criticism of this reduction in human thought is primarily expressed through the theme of education, and the diction he uses to describe Gradgrind’s classroom is indicative of his disapproval – the room is a “plain, bare, monotonous vault,” and Gradgrind himself is ‘square’. Dickens’ resentment towards those who sought to repress emotion is understandable, given the fact that, shortly before writing Hard Times, his father and third child had died. Equally significant is the fact that his islike of big business may have been inspired by the Preston Weavers’ Strike of 1853, a dispute he followed closely, which stemmed from workers’ demands for a ten per cent wage increase. Dickens’ sense of a degraded humanity is summarised by Dorothy Van Ghent, who believed that he; “saw that people were being de-animated, robbed of their souls and things were usurping the prerogatives of animate creatures. He saw industrialisation as a process which abrogated the primary demands of human feeling and rationality.  The moral contrast between the industrialists and the workers displayed by Dickens chimes with that displayed by Shaw in the juxtaposition of Barbara and Undershaft in Major Barbara. Indeed, the two authors’ shared a similar outlook, as Shaw; “condemned the democratic system of his time, saying that workers, ruthlessly exploited by greedy employers, lived in abject poverty. ” Stuart Baker, however, believes the conflict between Shaw’s two main protagonists is superficial; “Barbara stands for religion, spirit and morality; her father for matter, wealth and destructive power.
However, they both see the world as one, not divided into good and evil. They are two sides of the same coin. ” Undershaft’s motto that, “all have the right to fight, none have the right to judge,” discredits those who claim that he secretly enjoys destroying his daughters morality – he does not judge her, nor gain any enjoyment from stripping her of her naive views, he simply allows her to see what he thinks is the real way of the world for her own benefit. Baker concludes that, “Barbara’s defeat should not mean cynicism and despair.
Dramatically, the question is whether she can accept the cannon foundry and what is represents without compromising all that she represents. ” Ultimately, she manages to do this; she decides that bringing a message of salvation to the factory workers, rather than to London slum-dwellers, will bring her more fulfillment. Shaw’s message, however, remains one of a backward humanity as the motives for her doing so are relatively selfish, as she has already been made to see by her father that the concept of salvation is instrinsicly flawed.
She sticks to her morals, but for self-indulgent reasons. Dickens summarised the feelings of Shaw and Hardy when he said that, “electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true. ” While he was by far the most appalled by the physical consequences of mechanisation on the lower classes and the reduction of individual thought, Shaw was equally concerned by the moral dilemmas that technical innovation presented to society, and the difficulty with which humanity dealt with them.
Hardy’s despair was based on the fact that humans misused their new-found industrial might, attempting to overcome natural forces which he saw as insurmountable, and disrupting the natural equilibrium and the world’s status quo. While it is clear that the three authors focus on the theme of humanity and its reduction, they do so for different reasons, and to different degrees. Dickens’ sense of degraded humanity is evidently the strongest, to the extent that Hard Times could be seen as a satirical work attempting to shame the industrialists and society itself into change.
As a socialist, it is hard to view Shaw as someone who inherently disagreed with the concept of an industrial revolution; but the self-indulgent capitalism which developed in Victorian Britain as a result of economic growth, as displayed in Major Barbara, made him despair for humanity and his own ideology. Hardy perhaps saw degradation in humanity in the 19th Century and early 20th Century than Shaw and Dickens did, but there is little doubt that his poetry contains a cynical tone towards the misplaced confidence of humans in their products of industrialisation.
Ironically, technological innovation in historical terms is viewed as a positive event, but it is clear that Charles Dickens, Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy did not share that belief. Bibliography Hard Times – Charles Dickens (Penguin Popular Classics 1994) Selected Shorter Poems of Thomas Hardy – Thomas Hardy (Macmillan London Limited 1985) Major Barbara – Bernard Shaw (Penguin Books Ltd. 1979) Bernard Shaw’s Remarkable Religion: A Faith That Fits The Facts – Stuart Baker (2002) A Journey Into Thomas Hardy’s Poetry – Joanna Cullen Brown (1989) The Convergence of the Twain: Hardy’s Alteration of Plato’s Parable – Ian Ousby (1982)
The Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die – Fox News Documentary transcript (2010) Charles Dickens’ Hard Times for These Times as an Industrial Novel – Philip Allingham (2000) Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis – David Lodge (2002) Thomas Hardy Reappraised – Samuel Hynes (2006) The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry – Tim Kendall (2009) The Marriage of Contraries: Bernard Shaw’s Middle Plays – J. L. Wisenthal (1974) Dickens, Money, and Society – Grahame Smith (1968) Approaching Literature: The Realist Novel (1996)
An Unsocialist Socialist – Bernard Shaw (1883) ———————–  Bernard Shaw’s Remarkable Religion: A Faith That Fits The Facts – Stuart Baker  A Journey Into Thomas Hardy’s Poetry – Joanna Cullen Brown  The Convergence of the Twain: Hardy’s Alteration of Plato’s Parable – Ian Ousby  The Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die – Fox News Documentary transcript  Charles Dickens’ Hard Times for These Times as an Industrial Novel – Philip Allingham  Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis – David Lodge  Thomas Hardy Reappraised – Samuel Hynes 8] Saint Andrews Press  The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry – Tim Kendall  The Marriage of Contraries: Bernard Shaw’s Middle Plays – J. L. Wisenthal  Dickens, Money, and Society – Grahame Smith  Approaching Literature: The Realist Novel  An Unsocialist Socialist – Bernard Shaw  Bernard Shaw’s Remarkable Religion: A Faith That Fits The Facts – Stuart Baker ———————– WORD COUNT: 3,006