- ‘A town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage‘ is a quotation from Hard Times (Book 1, Chapter 5).
- Hard Times – For These Times (more commonly now known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens. It first appeared in weekly parts, published in Household Words, from April to August 1854. The shortest of Dickens’ novels, the story is set in the fictitious northern English industrial mill-town of Coketown.
This quotation is a description of Coketown in Hard Times. Smog and pollution from the factory chimneys have filled the atmosphere, discolouring the natural red-brick colour of many buildings with this sooty residue, which Dickens compares to looking like an unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.
This is an example of the figurative language Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using a simile to compare the appearance of Coketown with its largely red buildings covered with black pollution to that of the painted face of a savage, a warrior whose face has been decorated as if to intimidate their foes. The use of similes helps an author to strengthen a description, and for the reader, it helps to better visualise the scene in their heads.
Hard Times is set during the mid-nineteenth century in Coketown, a fictitious industrial northern English mill-town, similar to the Lancashire cotton-producing towns such as Manchester or Preston. Dickens visited Preston at the early stages of writing the novel during a period of industrial unrest in the town. The buildings of Coketown are utilitarian, reflecting the theme of utilitarianism that Dickens mocks in Hard Times, their dull uniform appearance built for the interests of the machines that run inside them rather than the people that live or work there. The factories of the town belch out pollution discolouring the bland red bricks that many are built of. There is no regard to the health of the people that live in Coketown, the poorer people having to live in filthy slum-like areas beside the dirty factories, whilst the wealthy owners can afford to live further away.
Coketown, to which Messrs. Bounderby and Gradgrind now walked, was a triumph of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs. Gradgrind herself. Let us strike the key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune.
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.
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