Journal Article

Why the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist: Dickens’ Parable for Hard Times

Jennifer Gribble

in Literature and Theology

Volume 18, issue 4, pages 427-441
Published in print December 2004 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online December 2004 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/18.4.427
Why the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist: Dickens’ Parable for Hard Times

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Mr Gradgrind's subversion of the Bible makes part of a larger cultural phenomenon Dickens sees in Victorian England ‘eighteen hundred and odd years after our master’. The novel's concluding reference to ‘the writing on the wall’ underlines the inability of a godless realm to heed the ancient wisdom and moral authority of the repressed text. Dickens’ response to the truth claims of utilitarian thinking is to restore the marginalized discourse of Christianity, rewriting the parable of the Good Samaritan for his times. The parable not only gives interpretative clues to the plot and character, setting and symbolism of Hard Times, it provides the foundation of its metadiscursive interest in the nature and significance of narrative. In a series of intersecting narratives, the novel reflects on the interchangeable roles, and the ability imaginatively to inhabit the situation of another, inherent in the parable's meaning. In exploring the contest between the oppositional discourses of Christian altruism and market-driven utilitarian self-interest, the novel takes its ethical bearings from the parable's narrative of redemptive love. It draws on the Old Testament as well as the New, activating the theological connection between the victim's fall and suffering, and man's first disobedience. Various appropriations of the parable, by Gradgrind, Bounderby, Mrs Sparsit and Stephen Blackpool for example, show the carnivalesque vitality and moral complexity Dickens finds in the contest.

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Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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