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To What Extent Is Stephen Blackpool Representative Of A Hand? in Dickens' "Hard Times?"

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To What Extent Is Stephen Blackpool Representative Of A Hand? Stephen represents the "Hands", and is supposed to seem typical in some respects and not in others. His dignity, patience and courtesy are all qualities that Dickens reported finding among the Preston strikers during his visit there in January 1854. He shares these qualities with the resolute Rachael, and depends on her support at critical moments, most notably when he is tempted to let his wife die, in Book I Chapter 13. In other respects, "Old Stephen" (so called, although only in his forties) is very much unusual. He is exceptionally awkward and stubborn. He irritates not only Bounderby and the trade unionists, but also many critics of the novel. Some critics think that he is stupid. There can be no doubt that asking Bounderby for help is a stupid thing to do, however this action may be explained by ...read more.


When it comes to Stephen's turn to talk however, he has no brilliant speech, he gives no reasoning for why he cannot join them, and he simply says that he can't. Many of his fellow workers seem to be quite tempted to join him, which shows Stephen's reputation and how liked he is by his colleagues. This differs from most of the other hands because, had they have told the crowd that they could not join the union; they would not have achieved this same reaction from the crowd. There are many objections to Stephen, as a "weakness" in the novel. However these mostly come from critics who would have preferred a more radical and practical figure in his place. We must not forget that Dickens audience would have been mainly the middle class and as such perhaps Dickens was eager to calm them by presenting a moderate, ineffectual and Christian workman, and by putting some of his own anti-union views into Stephen's speeches. ...read more.


Saint Stephen, from whom Stephen Blackpool's name is derived, was the first Christian martyr, killed because he was a Christian and he was ready to die for what he believed. As much of Dickens' audience would have attended church regularly, this is a biblical reference I am sure they would have picked up on, possibly giving them clues as to Stephen's fate. Critics sometimes compare Dickens's characters to caricatures. Some descriptions of Stephen might instead remind us of photographs. His shortsighted, attentive, concentrated look is captured as though in close-up, in Book I Chapter 12, and attributed to long hours of work "with eyes and hands in the midst of a prodigious noise". Later there is an image of him as though in a long-distance shot, standing before the union members: "He made a sort of reverence to them by holding up his arms, and stood for the moment in that attitude". This single image shows his dignity and vulnerability. ...read more.

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