Hard Times

Compare the characters of Slackbridge and Blackpool in this chapter. How do they symbolise both the values that Dickens admires and the attributes he dislikes? In this chapter Slackbridge is presented as a loud, hot tempered and shallow man, whereas Blackpool is presented as an honest, calm and straight forward man, also a man of great honesty, compassion, and integrity, Stephen maintains his moral ideals even when he is rejected by his fellow workers and fired by Bounderby. During this chapter Slackbridge gives an impassioned speech about the necessity of unionizing and of showing their sense of fellowship.

The only person who remains unconvinced is Stephen Blackpool. Stephen says he does not believe that the union will do any good because it will only aggravate the already tense relationship between employers and workers. You can tell that these two men are opposite characters when they perform their speeches. Slackbridge is portrayed as a talented speaker as Dickens writes “Slackbridge, the orator, looked about him with a withering smile”. This also shows that he is an arrogant and sarcastic man. He uses long, complex sentences to confuse the audience and making it difficult to follow what he is saying.

This implies that Slackbridge wants to show off his power; however Stephen says nothing to suggest power. Blackpool uses simple sentences and no fancy vocabulary whilst speaking, for example “That’s not for him” and “That’s not for nobody but me. ” The noun “friends” is repeated and used by both characters, but in two different ways. Slackbridge uses the hyperbole “Oh my friends” to try and manipulate the workers as he does not care about them. Slackbridge also says “Oh my fellow-country-men” to try and act as if he is their friend, to try and persuade the workers to go on strike.

The industrial revolution was happening at this moment in time. It was a period from 1750 to 1850 where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times. It began in the United Kingdom, and then subsequently spread throughout Western Europe, North America, Japan, and eventually the rest of the world. He tries to raise the workers up by saying “One united nation”, he knows what they can achieve. Whereas Blackpool can relate to the workers and can say “my friends” without having to pretend.

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The workers would have known Stephen since he was around ten years old. Therefore the workers have far more in common with Blackpool than they would have with Slackbridge. In politics, right-wing describes a political outlook or specific position that involves acceptance or support of social hierarchy and Slackbridge, at the time, was in favor of the right wing as he says “The orator having refreshed himself, wiped his corrugated forehead from left to right several times with his handkerchief folded into a pad”.

The adjective ‘corrugated’ suggests that he is an uneven character. Slackbridge does not want anything to do with the workers even though he is the link between them and the manager, Mr Bounderby. The adjectives ‘down-trodden’, “fellow-countrymen’, ‘iron-handed’ and ‘fellow sufferers’ are hyphenated modifiers illustrates the difference between the workers and the management, he is also empathising them. Stephen Blackpool lives a life of drudgery and poverty.

In spite of the hardships of his daily toil, he strives to maintain his honesty, integrity, faith, and compassion. He is only asking for the right to work as he says “I hope I shall die ere ever such a time cooms, and I shall work solitary among yo unless is cooms”. This implies that Stephen loves to work and that is why he does not want to go on strike. Stephen is the only Hand who refuses to join a workers’ union: he believes that striking is not the best way to improve relations between factory owners and employees, and he also wants to earn an honest living. I ha’ never had no fratch” demonstrates his innocence due to the fact that he has never had an argument with anyone. He also refuses to spy on his fellow workers for Bounderby, who consequently sends him away. Both groups, rich and poor, respond in the same self-interested, backstabbing way. Slackbridge labels Blackpool as a turncoat as the verbs ‘deserts’ his post, ‘sells’ his flag, ‘turns’ a traitor and a craven and a recreant, suggests that Stephen is a cruel man, he tries to convince the workers that Stephen has let them down.

Slackbridge could not make Blackpool sounds less worthy if tried. Dickens favors and admires Stephen Blackpool as he is the perfect balance in ‘fact’ and fancy’. Also Dickens hates trade unions and strikes, therefore he would hate Slackbridge as he wants the workers to go on strike and he is full of facts. Through Stephen, Dickens suggests that industrialization threatens to compromise both the employee’s and employer’s moral integrity, thereby creating a social muddle to which there is no easy solution.

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