Charles Dickens' "Hard Times": The One Thing Needful, Murdering the Innocents, Pious War House of Red Brick


The One Thing Needful: this is an allusion to the tale of Mary and Marther in the Bible. When Christ visited the two sisters, Marther continued with the household chores while Mary came and sat at the feet of Christ in order to hear his message when Marther complained about Mary, Christ remarked that she was doing ‘the one thing needful’. Here Christ laid greater emphasis on spirituality than on corporeality. In stark contrast, Gradgrind emphasizes the practice and the utilitarian at the expense of the emotional and the spiritual. The message of Dickens is that not only is Gradgrind destroying the mind of the children, but also working against the spirit of Christianity.

Murdering the Innocents: This phrase has a two fold reference- The first alludes to Herod’s slaughtering of the innocent babes of Bethlehem when he failed to find out the baby destined to be the king of the Hebrews. Dickens hints at the fact that Gradgrind is perpetrating no less genocide even if only at the level of intellect – than Herod.

               The second allusion is to the Arabian Night Tale of ‘Alibaba and the Forty Thieves’. In that tale Margiana poured boiling oil into the pitchers in which the thieves lay concealed thereby is killing them. In contrast, although Gradgrind too pours oil into the human pitchers before him – here the difficult information doled out to them being the equivalent of boiling oil – here he is murdering not the guilty but the innocent.

Pious war house of red brick: red brick symbolizes something inferior, something cheap, something made to serve the immediate practical purpose. The word ware house suggests that all the buildings in Coketown were like go-downs without any visual splendor or architectural grace. Finally, the ward ‘pious’ indicates that the building is actually church and that where as churches all over the world are symbols of splendid beauty, the churches in Coketown are note worthy only for their ugliness and their utilitarian attitude. It is there industrial church is an industrial town full of mechanical workers.


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