The possible personalities

Dickens refers to him afterwards as ‘that remarkable man and self-made Humbug’, and this sums his character up perfectly. In many ways, the narration of Hard Times is polyphonic – each character is in turn given the opportunity to put forward their own opinions from realistic viewpoints and personalities. In these instances, Dickens acts far more in a director role, setting the scene and creating situations in which his characters can act. However, the character of Bounderby is one whose entire personality has very obviously been created by Dickens solely to make a point about the type of self-publicising, ‘self-made’, hypocritical and pompous man that existed during the Victorian era.

‘A big, loud man, with a stare and a metallic laugh…A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his poverty.’ One often feels that many of Dickens’ characters have far too much personality for one person to realistically contain, and this is certainly true of Bounderby. Far from making the character a realistic one, he is used simply to illustrate everything that Dickens dislikes about this genre of person – every negative aspect of all the possible personalities of all those in Bounderby’s situation have been rounded into one, fairly unbelievable, bombastic man – the image of which is supported by Dickens’ descriptions of him:

‘A man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start… He had not much hair. One might have fancied he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness.’ This makes the character of Bounderby fairly weak in terms of realistic credibility, and turns him rather more into a comic stereotype than someone who we can be rightfully appalled by, such as Bitzer.

However, in many ways this does work to Dickens’ advantage. A character like Sissy Jupe or Rachael is far more easily believed, and this helps us to relate far more to them – it is extremely easy to sympathise with Stephen Blackpool’s desperate situation, for example, because both he and it are so believable. However, the opposite approach works just as well with Bounderby. He is incredible and unbelievable as a normal person, and therefore he is easily ridiculed and satirized to the point of being a running joke.

After only a few pages of Bounderby’s ridiculous expostulations we not only cease to take notice of anything he says, and take it all with a large bucketful of salt, but also develop a burning dislike for anyone like him. Due to Dickens’ obvious dislike for the type of people that Bounderby portrays, this tactic works very well, and succeeds in making the reader loathe Bounderby as much as he does. This appears to be Dickens’ aim in Hard Times – to portray those who are in real hardship and struggle as real people, with real emotions and hopes and fears, who the reader can identify and sympathise with, and to portray those who have power but who do nothing to help as bombastic, ridiculous caricatures, who it seems the world would be a lot better without.

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