A firm character basis is the foundation upon which any good novel is built. For an allegorical novel, Dickens' has a surprisingly complex character foundation. The characters in Hard Times have both the simplistic characteristics of a character developed for allegorical purposes, as well as the intricate qualities of "real" people. These characters think and feel like we do and react to their situations in the same way that most of us would. These attributes are what give the characters life and allow us to relate to their decisions.
Three characters in Hard Times; James Harthouse, Josiah Bounderby and Stephen Blackpool, exemplify this realistic quality and each is representative of a different social division. These divisions are the upper, middle and lower class. Each class, because of social interaction or absence of the same, creates different dilemmas.
The upper-class, as holds true in real-life, is the smallest of the three categories and, consequently, has its own unique problems. James Harthouse, a characteristic member of the upper-class, comes to Coketown to search for something else to bide his time with. As an aristocratic member of society, one can become stuck in the furrows of life when hours of daily labor is not a part of that person's regimen. Here is an example of some of the extravagant escapades that Harthouse embarks on, yet still finds life tedious:
Now, this gentleman had a younge r brother of still better appearance than himself, who had tried life as a Coronet of Dragoons, and found it a bore; and had afterwards tried it in the train of an English minister abroad, and found it a bore; and had then strolled to Jerusalem, and got bored there; and had then gone yachting about the world, and got bored everywhere (Dickens 95).
It is these types of exploits that show us his lax, upper-class attitude toward life and how easy it is for someone in this position to become bored when eight or ten hours of work are not necessary to sustain oneself. Although most of us cannot directly relate to his problems, we can see how our occupations "occupy" our time and a lack thereof would bring out similar human characteristics.
Harthouse is also very manipulative. He toys with people's emotions and disregards their feelings in favor of his own fancy. These actions probably stem from his need for accomplishment, a need which he satisfies by manipulating people wherever he sees the opportunity. A perfect example is shown in the following, where Harthouse is trying to find some leverage to gain Louisa's fancy:
'Is there nothing,' he thought, glancing at her as she sat at the head of the table, where her youthful figure, small and slight, but very graceful looked as pretty as it looked misplaced; 'is there nothing that will move that face?' Yes! By Jupiter, there was something, and here it was, in an unexpected shape. Tom appeared. She changed as the door opened, and broke into a beaming smile... 'Ay, ay?' thought the visitor. 'This whelp is the only creature she cares for (Dickens 100).
Harthouse then goes on to make friends with the "whelp" in order to be seen favorably by Louisa. Tom is his leverage. It is these types of qualities that make Harthouse a complex, believable character.
Josiah Bounderby exhibits many qualities which make him believable. First of all, Bounderby tries fervently to uphold his image. As a member of the middle-class, he leads everyone to believe that he worked very hard to achieve his position as a wealthy factory owner. Any champion of the middle-class works hard to get where he is, and works hard to stay there. He gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor, yet does not have enough freetime to become bored with life. His plight, as he presents it, follows:
' I hadn't a shoe to my foot. As to a stoc king, I didn't know such a thing by name. I passed the day in a ditch, and t he night in a pigsty. ... 'I was born with inflammation of the lungs, and of everything else, I believe, that was capable of inflammation.' ... ' How I fought through it, I don't know,' said Bounderby. 'I was determined, I suppose. I have been a determined character in later life and I suppose I was then. Here I am Mrs. Gradgrind, anyhow, and nobody to thank for my being here, but myself' (Dickens 37).
Bounderby maintains that he fought his way, tooth and nail, to gain his present position. This is a very admirable accomplishment. Everyone takes Bounderby's story for the gospel until his Mother, Mrs. Pegler, uncovers his scheme. She did not abandon him, as he claimed, and he did not work his way up from obscurity. This is what makes Bounderby a believable character. Acceptance is a vital human quality, but admiration is the most sought after. If Bounderby goes by the truth, then he gains acceptance society. If, however, he concocts this story about fighting his way up from a ditch, then he gains the admiration of his peers.
Stephen Blackpool is the martyr of the lower-class. We can relate the most to Stephen as a character because he holds the most admirable human qualities. As a worker in Bounderby's factory, Stephen must work very hard to maintain himself. He sees that despite the poor conditions in the factories, the union is not a very viable option because the negotiator, Slackbridge, as his name suggests, is a very poor "bridge" between the workers and the owners. Because he does not support the union, his peers reject him. We can easily relate to his isolated feeling and sympathize with him.
Stephen is also a victim of his social class. He is in love with Rachel but cannot be with her because he is married to a woman who left him years before. He also cannot divorce her because he cannot afford to. This adds the emotional complexity of something unattainable to Stephen's character, making him even more believable as a character.
Dickens' characters in Hard Times are more than just caricatures for an allegorical novel on the present state of England. They are real, thinking, breathing, feeling people who are driven by impulse, desire and acceptance. Dickens' use of believable characters makes his novel more realistic and therefore more effective. If Dickens had chosen to write his novel using shallow, "cartoon-like" characters, it would be immediately dismissed as a social commentary and would not be hailed for its novel-like qualities. Only when a literary work is appreciated on many levels can it truly be effective in any one area.