COKETOWN 

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 tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next. 

[...] You saw nothing in Coketown but what was severely workful. If the members of a religious persuasion built a chapel there as the members of eighteen religious persuasions had done  they made it a pious warehouse of red brick, with sometimes (but this only in highly ornamented examples) a bell in a bird-cage on the top of it. The solitary exception was the New Church; a stuccoed edifice with a square steeple over the door, terminating in four short pinnacles like florid wooden legs. All the public inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe characters of black and white. The jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town-hall might have been either, or both, or anything that appeared to the contrary in the graces of their construction. Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of  the town ; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial. The M'Choakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital8 and the cemetery, and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.

(from: Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854)

 

 

 

ACTIVITIES

 

1. Read the first paragraph and jot down information connected with:

- colours

- buildings

- air

- sounds

- actions.

2. This paragraph contains two similes and a metaphor comparing features of an inanimate world with features of the natural world.

a. Note down the similes and metaphor.

b. Consider your notes and say what the elements of the animate world have got in common. Do you associate them with a friendly or aggressive, safe or dangerous attitude towards common people?

3. In the last sentence of the paragraph, underline the phrase and the adjective which are repeated more than twice. What are they? What impression/s do they convey? Choose from:

lack of originality regularity uniformity precision fear of the unknown

anguish monotony serenity

4. Read the second paragraph and complete the list in exercise 3 as regards colours and buildings.

5. What is the most repeated word in this paragraph?

Does this repetition confirm the impression conveyed by the repetitions in the first paragraph? (see exercise 5).

What 19th-century political economic and social doctrine does this word make you think of?

6. Read the following statements about the passage. Discuss in pairs or groups and decide whether they are true or false.

 

 

 

Refer back to the exercises and to the text to support your answers.

 

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a. In Dickens' description machinery appears as a dangerous beast with a life of its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

b. Coketown is a depressing place,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

c. Apart from the smoke from the chimneys, Coketown is a pleasant place to live in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

d. After reading this passage, one is left with an impression of total uniformity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

e. Through his similes and metaphors, Dickens wants to convey the idea that Coketown is inhabited by savage people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

f. In Coketown, the utilitarian view of things brings about ugliness in the environment and lack of individuality in the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

g. Through such a description Dickens attacks the inhumanity of an industrial and materialistic society.

 

 

 

 

 

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1. got uncoiled, lost their twisted shape. 

2. dye, industrial colouring substance. 

3. workful, related to work

4. steeple, bell-tower of a church.

5. jail, prison. 6. infirmary, hospital. 

7. M'Choakumchild, name of the "utilitarian" school- teacher who believes that knowledge is simply a long list of facts.

The name may mean "don't let the child breathe". 8. lying-in hospital, maternity hospital.