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It is amazing what we can learn about the different societies by studying the literature prevalent of their times. According to Michel Foucault, "Through language and thought, each period in history develops its own perceptions of the nature of reality (or what it defines as truth) and sets up its own acceptable and unacceptable standards of behavior" which he calls "episteme" (Bressler 242). Within the text of "Hard Times" Charles Dickens brings the reader an understanding of what was happening to the English society during the Victorian age. As we read this text we can have the opportunity to view the thoughts of the Victorian culture as well as view what happened at that time though our own.
The title of his story brings the reader to an understanding of what is behind the story even before reading the text. It is written in simple language for all to understand, those of the times, and those who read the story in the future. Dickens does not complain of kings who lack morals or knights who seek justice. He does not write of men seeking honor in battle or the absurdity of war. He writes in plain language for the common man to comprehend of a different battle than one might suspect. He speaks of the battle his society faces while going through the growing pains of advancing technology and it's effect on the people of his country. The author speaks of a city called "Coketown" that is being transformed into an industrial conglomeration from what once was a pleasant city of humans living and together to make a better life. When Dickens writes, "It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it" he is complaining of a vanishing beauty that once held this city and it's people in safety (Longman1828).
Dickens goes on to describe the city as having, "a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye" which would bring the reader to consider the possible pollution of the waterway (Longman 1829). It is apparent by reading the comments of Dickens that at the time of writing "Hard Times" was directed at the cities governing body in an attempt at righting the wrongs of technologies effects on the city.
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The writers of the modernist period viewed life from an entirely different point of view. There ideas put to text brought forth complaints, as did many of the Victorian writers; however the modernist complaint held to a more deadly idea. There language, though similar in that it was written for the common person to read, held a more cynical view of life itself and events occurring during their time period. When Wilfred Owen wrote "Dulce Et Decorum Est" he was looking at life from a different "episteme" than that of the Victorian writers. World War I had altered his outlook on truth from that of the likes of Dickens.
Owen's modernistic description in his writing contained more graphic detail with his phrases. He did not speak in the clean language of the Victorians but in language of a darker sense. The poem, "Dulce Et Decorum Est" contains language such as, "Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge" showing the development of the language between the Victorian and Modernistic ages of writing. Even though Owen wrote the poem using end-rhyme, as would have poets from earlier times his language was clearly that of the modernist who had lost faith in life itself. Their loss of faith, brought about by the way, is exemplified in the phrase, "As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. /In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, /He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning" (L 14-16). These words seem to convey a helplessness not just of the combatant in death but of the author conveying his truth.
Both Modernist and Victorian writer wrote to their belief in these two texts. But a difference lies within the text. One saw misery in the culture of the time due to the onslaught of progress, while the other saw misery in the onslaught of war. Many of the authors of the Victorian age wrote in hopes of finding a better life for their people, while the Modernist seemed to convey a sense of despair beyond the limit of coming back to any sense of happiness or serenity.
Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism. Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1999.
Dickens, Charles. "Hard Times." The Longman Anthology British Literature the Romantics, the Victorians, and the Twentieth Century. Ed. David Damrosch. Longman. New York. 2000.
Owen, Wilfred. "Dulce Et Decorum Est" The Longman Anthology British Literature the Romantics, the Victorians, and the Twentieth Century. Ed. David Damrosch. Longman. New York. 2000.