by Kristine Putz
The first installment of Hard Times by Charles Dickens appears in Sunday, April 1st’s issue of Household Words where the first three chapters are published. The reader is introduced to Mr. Gradgrind and his intense and, thus far, unwavering commitment to facts over emotion where he is “an eminently practical father” (17), who lives in “a calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house” (16), and whose due it was to be acceptable (17). Mr. Gradgrind dominates the chapters in this installment, as does his counterpart M’Choakumchild who seeks to educate his pupils with the same drive for fact over emotion that Mr. Gradgrind exemplifies in his daily life and thinking. However, throughout the installment, there is an air of caution and foreboding around the description of these characters, which is explicitly evident on page 15 of Hard Times when Dickens speaks to the reader about M’Choakumchild: “Ah, rather overdone, M’Choakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more”. Here, Dickens introduces the critique of this obsession over fact. Specifically, when paired with the article that follows the first three chapters of Hard Times in Household Words, “Oranges and Lemons” by John Capper, Dickens seeks to critique the obliviousness of this section of society’s solutions, which, though grounded in fact, are ignorant of experience and make them ineffective decision makers and leaders for the working class. If they had “learnt a little less” and had more experience, they would be more effective leaders.
Immediately following April 1st’s installment of Hard Times is an article called “Oranges and Lemons”, which begins on page 145 of Household Words Volume 9. The reader is greeted with an image of a street-child selling oranges, which is followed by an in-depth glance into the process of where the oranges and lemons, mostly oranges, come from, how they are transported, and the repealed duties that once impeded efficient transport and consumption. The whole article’s relaying of process mirrors the way Mr. Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild would talk about the process of transporting oranges themselves, in its separation of fact from emotion and experience of the process of production and transport.
The glimpse into the process of transporting these fruit is presented in a way that hints at the laziness and obliviousness of the consumer who reaps the benefit of the process while remaining emotionally and physically ignorant of it:
How few of us have any conception of the vast tracts of land required to rear these pleasant products of the soil: of the hands employed in the culture…while their consumers are sleeping in their beds…of the mean squalor and desolation of the great retail orange-mart in Duke’s Place: of the thousands of men, women, and children who draw a subsistence from their sale in the streets, in steamboats, at fairs, in theatres, or wherever people congregate (145).
Here, Capper makes an explicit distinction between “the hands employed in culture” and the people who ”draw a subsistence” from the sale of these goods and the consumers who sleep in their beds while all of this is happening. This suggests a separation from the process, as does the rest of the article, which continues by relaying the process of how these fruit are transported. The reader is then educated on the process based on fact and rationale, with no actual conception of the physical and emotional aspects of it as a mockery of this consumer’s education of the same concepts.
Furthermore, the image of the street child at the beginning of the article is never really reconciled except to say that the lowering of duties makes the oranges more accessible. The author even goes as far to say that the poor who could not afford oranges now have them readily available because the duties have been lowered: “[W]e are still largely indebted to them [oranges] as tending to promote health, especially for the poorer classes; who do not have access to more costly fruit…A wise policy has so lowered these fruit duties as to bring oranges within the reach of the poorest in the land” (Capper 146). A solution to the poor physical health and well being of the “poorest of the land” is presented in the oranges. Thus, this “wise policy” would, factually and reasonably lead to an increase in their health. This solution, though almost comical, presents a very real and practical solution if one is only looking at facts: The oranges are cheaper now because the duties were lowered. Thus, they are accessible to all. This is reminiscent of Mr. Gradgrind’s and M’Choakumchild’s way of thinking: If a solution is grounded in fact and reason it is able to be considered. If it involves a real knowledge of the poor’s problems, it is foolish because a true knowledge would require experience as a working “hand”, which suggests a lack of education. Thus, questioning the accessibility of the oranges to the “poorest of the land” would be foolish. This solution is meant to be comical in its ignorance because any reader with a true knowledge of process and the emotional and physical labor attached to it would know that the solution to the health of the poor is more complicated than a lowering of duties and does requires more than a factual knowledge of the problem.
This theme is continued later in “Oranges and Lemons” when Capper describes where the oranges come from, how they are cultivated, and how they are prized by the community in which they are grown:
The cultivator in short devotes the whole of his working hours and all his best energies to the care of his quinta, not only during its early growth, but when it has arrived at maturity; for, upon its produce, his main dependence is placed, quite as much indeed as that of the Irish cottier upon his potato-field. The orange is his staff of life (147).
After establishing the orange’s importance in the community and how much work has gone into cultivating them, the author then goes on to say that because of protective duties, many of the same oranges were flung into the river because they were not the right size: “[W]e have been assured by a traveller that during the gathering season he has seen the Douro completely covered by the rejected fruit” (147). The author quickly states that this has been fixed by the removal of those duties. However, only a person who is removed from process could separate themselves completely from the emotions evoked in this passage and dismiss the image of oranges that were so lovingly cultivated and prized by their growers and growers’ communities being dumped into the water because their sizes weren’t quite right while at the same time wasting oranges the poor could not afford. The reader is brought back to the idea of the consumers who are so caught up facts without emotional and physical experience to supplement them, that they can’t solve problems (they often also create) prevalent to the working class. The oranges are no longer being wasted, but will they actually get into the hands of the poor? Dickens and Capper seek to point out the wastefulness and selfishness of this sector of society, driven by a lack of experience, that make them ineffective leaders and managers of companies.
The entirety of this article is meant to be a mockery of the consumer who is educated in fact rather than experience. The reader is not meant to dismiss the idea of so much fruit being wasted, while at the same time the poor, who would have most benefited from the healthy fruit, were left without. The emotional images and their ineffective solutions are meant to strike a chord with the readers of this journal because they are not ignorant of the process of manufacturing and transport as the consumer referenced in “Oranges and Lemons” and Mr. Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild of Hard Times are. This article, then, when paired with the first three chapters of Hard Times, is a call for reform. Specifically, a reform of who is in charge of making decisions that impact the working class. Dickens and Capper suggest, through the two articles, that in order to be effective decision makers and leaders, one must have knowledge of process beyond factual knowledge.
Capper, John. “Oranges and Lemons.” Household Words, 1 April 1854, pp. 145-150.
Dickens, Charles. “Hard Times.” Household Words, 1 April 1854, pp. 141-145.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Penguin Classics, 1995.