- ‘No temperature made the melancholy mad elephants more mad or more sane. Their wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate, in hot weather and cold, wet weather and dry, fair weather and foul‘ is a quotation from Hard Times (Book 2, Chapter 1).
- 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 the steam-engines in Coketown in Hard Times. Coketown was a fictional place, based on the industrial mill towns of northern England at the time.
In Book 1, Chapter 5 of Hard Times, Dickens presented a hard-hitting picture of Coketown, including comparing the motion of a steam-engine piston going up and down to the behaviour of an elephant, driven mad to the extent that the animal is constantly bobbing its head. He returns to this theme at the beginning of Book 2 with another bleak portrait of a town, so hot that it seemed to be frying in oil.
Dickens shows the disconnect between the machines of the industrial revolution and the human labour they largely replaced. The machines are unaffected by factors that have an impact on human work, such as temperature, emotions or the time of day, repetitively working away all day without stopping.
This is an example of the figurative language Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using an example of zoomorphism, a literary technique in which animal attributes or features are ascribed to gods, humans, and inanimate objects. Dickens compares the motion of a steam-engine piston going up and down to the behaviour of an elephant, driven mad to the extent that the animal is constantly bobbing its head.
The streets were hot and dusty on the summer day, and the sun was so bright that it even shone through the heavy vapour drooping over Coketown, and could not be looked at steadily. Stokers emerged from low underground doorways into factory yards, and sat on steps, and posts, and palings, wiping their swarthy visages, and contemplating coals. The whole town seemed to be frying in oil. There was a stifling smell of hot oil everywhere. The steam-engines shone with it, the dresses of the Hands were soiled with it, the mills throughout their many stories oozed and trickled it. The atmosphere of those Fairy palaces was like the breath of the simoom: and their inhabitants, wasting with heat, toiled languidly in the desert. But no temperature made the melancholy mad elephants more mad or more sane. Their wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate, in hot weather and cold, wet weather and dry, fair weather and foul. The measured motion of their shadows on the walls, was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for the summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whirr of shafts and wheels.
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.
Charles Dickens makes several references to a mad elephant in his works, such as in the sketch Gin-Shops and the novel Hard Times. The inspiration for their inclusion may have originated from a famous incident when Dickens was younger. In the Spring of 1826, when Dickens was a 14 year-old boy living and studying in London, a large elephant called Chunee was shot dead in the city by soldiers after going mad. Chunee, also known as Chuny, was one of three Indian elephants brought to England between 1809 and 1811. He was used as a performing animal and as an exhibit, even appearing in theatrical performances. Chunee was housed in a menagerie at Exeter Exchange in London’s Strand where people would pay to see him perform tricks. Chunee was a famous attraction in the city and his death made national news, in part because of the gruesome manner in which he was killed. Even after his death, the bones of Chunee were put on exhibition around the country.
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