Idiots Again

While not directly referenced in Chapter 6, the article “Idiots Again” harkens back to a previous chapter in Hard Times, Chapter 4, in which Dickens describes Mrs. Gradgrind this way: “[S]he had ‘no nonsense’ about her. By nonsense he meant fancy; and truly it is probable she was as free from any alloy of that nature, as any human being not arrived at the perfection of an absolute idiot, ever was” (Hard Times 24). The article does not define the term “idiot,” but it is a reasonable assumption that this term refers to the mentally retarded. A fascinating point to note when reading this article is that the author recognizes differences between “idiots,” differences that with today’s understanding are indicative of autism.

There appears to be a threefold goal in the article. The first is to decrease incidents of idiocy by “denouncing as a crime, the marriage of blood-relations.” The author makes his case by citing “The Report on Idiotcy in Massachusetts,” a report on a study of seventeen families where the father and mother were related by blood. These families had a total of ninety-five children. The article states, “Of these ninety-five children, one was a dwarf… one was deaf… twelve were scrofulous… forty-four were idiots.”. The article implies a direct correlation between intermarriage of relations and idiocy in their offspring. The discussion of the study is followed by a detailed description of a mother realizing she has an idiot child, a description designed to tug at the heartstrings of mothers everywhere.

Second, the article discusses variations in idiocy and how the laws defining idiocy are not always correct. At this point, the author gives examples of idiots who show great skill with words or numbers or art, but are idiots nonetheless. The goal here is to examine the legal definitions of idiocy and enhance public awareness of the variations. The article then goes on to describe the hard life of a family burdened with the rearing of an idiot – how tasks most readers would take for granted, like making coffee, are rendered nearly impossible by the inclusion of an idiot in the household.

This leads to the third goal, to place readers into the situation of a family dealing with the difficult task of raising a child who is an idiot in an attempt to move readers to action. The author commends families who have adjusted their lives for the betterment of the family idiot, rather than doing “what used to be done with such beings – consign him to the stye, to sleep with the pigs, or chain him up like the dog.”  As humorous as these descriptions sound, the author reminds readers that this is exactly the way their grandparents’ generation dealt with such matters. Also praised in the article are schools and asylums designed for vocational training of idiots. The specifics of this training are not mentioned.

With regards to the text of Hard Times, there is not a character that could be classified as an idiot based on the criteria put forth in the article, “Idiots Again.” However, while Louisa is not born an idiot, her rearing has made her such that she is socially inept and emotionless, characteristics that are seen in idiots. Her inability to connect with others leads her into a disastrous marriage and destroys her life. The article points out that the conventional and legal definitions of “idiot” do not encompass the vast differences in ability of the people it is meant to label, and though a possible solution to reducing the number of idiots is offered as eliminating intermarriage, the novel indicates another possible cause is the way parents raise their children.
 - Lyndsey Magrone (2005)

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