Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Thomas Gradgrind, proprietor of an experimental private school in Coketown, insists that the children under him learn only facts. He believes that the world has no place for fancy or imagination. His own five children are models of a factual education. Never having been permitted to learn anything of the humanities, they are ignorant of literature and any conception of human beings as individuals. Even fairy tales and nursery rhymes had been excluded from their education.
One day, as he walks from the school to his home, Gradgrind is immensely displeased and hurt to find his two oldest children, Louisa and Tom, trying to peek through the canvas walls of a circus tent. It eases his mind even less to discover that the two youngsters are not at all sorry for acting against the principles under which they had been reared and educated. Later, Gradgrind and his industrialist friend, Mr. Josiah Bounderby, discuss possible means by which the children might have been misled from the study of facts. They conclude that another pupil, Sissy Jupe, whose father is a clown in the circus, had influenced the young Gradgrinds.
Having decided to remove Sissy Jupe from the school, Bounderby and Gradgrind set out immediately to tell the girl’s father. When they arrive at the inn where the Jupes are staying, they find that the father has deserted his daughter. Moved by sentiment, Gradgrind decides to keep the girl in his home and to let her be educated at his...
(The entire section is 1036 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Hard Times Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Thomas Gradgrind, a citizen of the northern industrial town of Coketown, is a convinced Utilitarian: an enemy to Fancy and a worshiper of Fact. He is intent on having the pupils in his model school—who include his children, Tom and Louisa—crammed so full of knowledge as to leave no room for anything else.
Two other pupils of Gradgrind’s prove important to the story: the naturally affectionate Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a performer in Sleary’s Circus (a traveling troupe of clowns, jugglers, and horseback riders), and Bitzer, an emotionless, eerily pale boy who absorbs all of Gradgrind’s precepts. When Sissy’s father abandons her, Gradgrind takes her into his household, making her a companion to his ailing wife. Sissy turns out to be a faithful friend to Louisa and Tom; the calculating, cold-hearted Bitzer, her opposite, turns on his old mentor in the end.
When she comes of age, Louisa marries her father’s friend and ally Josiah Bounderby, a boastful, bullying Coketown manufacturer and banker, who claims, untruthfully, to be an entirely self-made man, abandoned by his mother at an early age and reared in the street. Louisa marries Bounderby despite their difference in age (he is some 30 years her senior) and not loving him in the slightest. She takes this disastrous step for several reasons: because it is her father’s view that between his daughter and Mr. Bounderby there is “great suitability” of “means and positions”;...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Book I, Chapters 1-2: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1: The One Thing Needful
Chapter 2: Murdering the Innocents
Thomas Gradgrind: the proprietor of a model school
Mr. M’Choakumchild: the school teacher
Unnamed “Government Officer”: present to inspect schools
Bitzer: a model pupil
Sissy Jupe: another pupil, who answers inappropriately
In a plain, bare classroom, students sit in rows, listening to a speaker, a square-faced man who lectures them on the all-importance of Fact. This is Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, a “man of Realities, a man of facts and calculation.” He is accompanied in the classroom by two other adults: his school teacher, Mr. M’Choakumchild, a recent graduate of the new state-supported teacher training, and an unnamed man, a “government officer,” apparently inspecting the school in his official capacity.
Gradgrind calls on Sissy Jupe (as “girl number 20”), asks for her name and what her father does for a living, ascertains that he is one of the “horse riders” (performers) in Sleary’s Circus, and asks for her “definition of a horse.” Sissy is unable to give him the answer, but another student, the boy Bitzer, answers in the approved style: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders.”
The third man then addresses the children, asking them if they would decorate their houses with patterned...
(The entire section is 664 words.)
Book I, Chapters 3-4: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 3: A Loophole
Chapter 4: Mr. Bounderby
Mr. Sleary: owner of “Sleary’s Horse-Riding,” an equestrian circus
Miss Josephine Sleary: his daughter, who performs in the circus
Signor Jupe: Sissy Jupe’s father, who performs with his trained dog, Merrylegs
Mr. Bounderby: a wealthy mill owner and banker
Mrs. Gradgrind: Thomas Gradgrind’s feeble wife
Adam Smith, Malthus, and Jane Gradgrind: the younger sons and infant daughter of Thomas Gradgrind
Mr. Gradgrind walks from his school to his home, Stone Lodge, built on a moor just outside Coketown, a “great town” in Northern England. He thinks with satisfaction about his school and his children, about how he intends all the pupils in the school to be model pupils, and how he believes his own children to be models of his strictly rational and practical approach to life and learning.
Reaching the outskirts of Coketown on his way home, Mr. Gradgrind hears the unexpected sound of band music from a traveling circus. Mr. Sleary himself can be seen at a ticket booth, and there is a poster identifying his daughter, Josephine, and Sissy Jupe’s father as performers. Mr. Gradgrind keeps going, paying no attention. But just then something does grab him: the sight of a group of school-aged children trying to peep into the circus. He puts on his eyeglass and is...
(The entire section is 868 words.)
Book I, Chapters 5-6: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5: The Key-Note
Chapter 6: Sleary’s Horsemanship
Mr. E.W.B. Childers: a horse-rider
Master Kidderminster: his son
Emma Gordon: a pregnant member of Sleary’s Circus
Gradgrind and Bounderby walk to Coketown in search of Sissy Jupe’s father. He lives in Pod’s End, a part of town unfamiliar to them both. They stop and look about themselves. Just then Sissy Jupe herself comes into view, running. She is being pursued by Bitzer, the pale boy in her class. Mr. Gradgrind sends Bitzer on his way with a warning and asks Sissy to conduct them to her father’s house.
She leads the way to the Pegasus’ Arms, a combination inn and pub (drinking house) where Sleary’s troupe are staying. While Sissy looks in vain for her father, who is nowhere to be found at the inn, Gradgrind and Bounderby encounter Mr. E.W.B. Childers and his son, Master Kidderminster, both performers in Sleary’s Circus. Childers tells them that Sissy’s father, depressed by his failures in the ring, has probably left the circus and abandoned his daughter.
Mr. Sleary, preceded by other members of his troupe, arrives on the scene. He asks Mr. Gradgrind if he intends to do anything for the girl whose father has “morrised” (run away). Against Bounderby’s advice, Gradgrind offers to take Sissy into his household, to take charge of her, and educate her...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
Book I, Chapter 7: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7: Mrs. Sparsit
Mrs. Sparsit: Bounderby’s housekeeper
Mr. Sparsit: the lady’s late husband
Lady Scadgers: her invalid great aunt
On the morning following Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby’s eventful visit with the circus people, Mrs. Sparsit, an elderly widow who acts as Mr. Bounderby’s housekeeper, and who is regarded by him (and by herself) as having once been socially very much his superior, chats with her employer over breakfast. Bounderby tells Mrs. Sparsit about what he calls his friend Gradgrind’s “whim,” his proposal to take care of Sissy Jupe. Bounderby also mentions his own resolution to take “young Tom,” Louisa Gradgrind’s brother, under his wing by employing him in his office.
To give Gradgrind time to reconsider his decision, Bounderby has put Sissy, whom he calls the “tumbling-girl,” up for the night at his house in Coketown. He appears to be concerned that Sissy would not make a suitable companion for Louisa.
When Gradgrind and Louisa arrive at Bounderby’s, Sissy is summoned to meet her benefactor. Not aware of Mrs. Sparsit’s importance, Sissy fails to include her in her curtsies. Bounderby makes a speech about Sissy’s blunder.
Gradgrind explains to Sissy how he means to have her “strictly educated.” As a condition for receiving his care, she must never refer to her past....
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Book I, Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8: Never Wonder
Louisa and Tom sit talking by the fireplace in their study at the close of day. Their unhurried conversation starts and stops, with pauses to gaze into the fire. Tom complains bitterly about his life at Stone Lodge, which he calls a “Jaundiced Jail.”
Tom brings up the subject of his going to live with “old Bounderby.” Louisa asks him if he really looks forward to working for him. Tom replies that “there’s one thing to be said for it, it will be getting away from home.” Louisa repeats this remark, word for word, in a “curious tone.” Gazing at the fire, she tells Tom she has been “wondering about you and me, grown up.” At this point Mrs. Gradgrind intrudes on the scene, complaining that Tom has been encouraging his sister to wonder, “when he knows that his father has expressly said that she is not to do it.”
In the phrase “never wonder” Dickens proposes a link between his characterization of the joylessly regulated lives of Coketown’s workers and what he has so far described of the bringing up of the Gradgrind children. “Louisa, never wonder,” her father once told Louisa when she was younger. The workers of Coketown, those “grown-up babies” (the phrase is meant ironically), are given the same message. They are to “take everything on trust,” to “take everything on political economy.”
But the program of...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Book I, Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9: Sissy’s Progress
Several months have passed since Sissy Jupe has moved into Stone Lodge. She has not done well at school; caring for Mrs. Gradgrind is hard, and she’s had “strong impulses” to run away. But the thought of her father stops her—she still has faith that he will return to her some day, and that he would prefer her to remain where she was. After all, it had been his idea to enroll her in Gradgrind’s school in the first place.
Mr. M’Choakumchild cannot give Gradgrind a favorable account of her performance. She is slow with figures; can grasp that the world is round but has no interest in its dimensions; cannot remember historical dates unless “something pitiful happened to be connected therewith”; bursts into tears when she is asked to do practical sums, and so on. Disappointed, Gradgrind nevertheless declares that Sissy must be “kept to it.”
One night, Sissy approaches Louisa and tearfully confides her school troubles. Louisa, intrigued by Sissy’s “wrong” answers, asks about her past life. Interrupted three times by an impatient Tom, who wants Louisa to come into the drawing room to meet Bounderby, Sissy tells the story of both her parents: about her mother, a dancer who died when Sissy was born, and her barely literate father who had somehow gotten the idea (perhaps from his wife, who was literate) that Sissy should be educated. Louisa asks if her father...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
Book I, Chapters 10-12: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 10: Stephen Blackpool
Chapter 11: No Way Out
Chapter 12: The Old Woman
Stephen Blackpool: one of Bounderby’s “hands”
Rachael: a fellow worker
Stephen’s wife: an unnamed, drunken, sub-human woman
Stephen Blackpool, a weaver in Mr. Bounderby’s cotton mill, stands searching for someone in the crowd of women leaving the factory at the end of the day. He’s a gray-haired man of 40, who speaks in the broad accents of his native Lancashire. His hard life has made him look much older. Just as he’s about to turn away disappointed, he sees a familiar shape ahead of him. It is Rachael, his friend and companion for many years. The two greet each other affectionately, but there is a sadness and a certain constraint in their greeting too. Almost her first words are that they ought not to walk together so often, and he agrees—it might cause people to talk. Stephen sees her home and then walks home himself.
He lives in one of the poorest quarters of Coketown, in a single room above a small shop. He keeps it neat with a few simple pieces of furniture. The room is dark. Entering it with a candle, he stumbles over a body. It is his wife, apparently returned from a drunken binge, who has been sitting in a motionless stupor on the floor of his room. She rises, talks angrily and incoherently and then collapses on the bed. Stephen covers...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
Book I, Chapter 13: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 13: Rachael
Stephen returns to his room and finds Rachael attending his wife, who is in a feverish, semiconscious state from which she is not expected to emerge until the morning. Rachael has changed the woman’s clothes, tidied and swept the room, and rigged a sheet around the bed, so Stephen can’t see her. On a low table by the bed stand two bottles of medicine, one marked “Poison.” The sight of it makes him shiver, which Rachael attributes to his staying out late in the heavy rain and high winds.
At Rachael’s urging, Stephen goes to sleep in his chair. He dreams that it is his wedding day and he is standing in church by his bride. During the ceremony, he becomes aware of a great light shining from the words of one of the Ten Commandments by the altar. Then he hears the words sounded out, “as if there were voices in the fiery letters.” The scene changes, and he is standing with the clergyman before a vast crowd, all staring at his face. He is on a raised stage. Above him is his power loom, which, as he hears the words of the burial service, changes shape, and he knows he is there to be executed. He feels himself falling…and is returned, still dreaming, to regular life, gloomily convinced that he has been condemned never to see Rachael’s face again. He is haunted by a shape: the shape of the bottle with the deadly label. Everything he sees keeps turning into the bottle—the very chimneys...
(The entire section is 691 words.)
Book I, Chapters 14-15: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 14: The Great Manufacturer
Chapter 15: Father and Daughter
The years pass, bringing change to the inhabitants of Gradgrind’s establishment. Gradgrind has been elected to Parliament, as a member for Coketown. Sissy Jupe, through with school (Gradgrind sees no point in her continuing; her performance there has been as consistently disappointing as her services to the family have been appreciated), has been asked to stay on at Stone Lodge under Gradgrind’s protection. Tom, as expected, has gone to work for Mr. Bounderby’s bank. He lives with Bounderby now, working hard during the day but enjoying his evenings. If Bounderby comes on too strong, all he has to do is mention his sister and he softens—which is just what Tom said would happen, back when Louisa gazed into the fire, wondering what the future would bring.
Louisa herself, Mr. Gradgrind has to acknowledge, is now really not just “almost a young woman” but “quite a young woman.” They must talk; father and daughter need to have a serious conversation. He asks her to see him in his study after breakfast the next morning.
The serious conversation takes place as scheduled. Gradgrind tells Louisa that Bounderby has asked him for her hand in marriage. Bounderby has, he says, “long watched your progress with particular interest and pleasure.” Louisa wants to know if her father thinks she loves Mr. Bounderby? Gradgrind says he...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
Book I, Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 16: Husband and Wife
Mr. Bounderby’s first concern, when he hears that Louisa will have him, is what to say to Mrs. Sparsit, his housekeeper. He is worried that she might have a fit, or cry, or pack up and go to her great aunt, Lady Scadgers—Louisa’s coming will mean her services in his house will no longer be needed. When he does summon the nerve to tell her, Mrs. Sparsit’s reaction is unexpected. She takes it all in stride, as if she’d been expecting the news all along, and her manner toward him changes. She says she wishes he may be happy, but her tone implies that he won’t, and that he is very much to be pitied, as a kind of victim. Bounderby, baffled and resentful but not wanting to lose his prize piece of gentility, proposes that, for the same salary, Mrs. Sparsit stay on as a housekeeper for some apartments above his bank, one of which would be for her exclusive use. This offer Mrs. Sparsit gratefully accepts.
A wedding in one of Coketown’s churches is planned. Mr. Bounderby, as an “accepted wooer,” appears at Stone Lodge, bearing bracelets. The day comes, the couple is married, and they go home to a wedding feast at Stone Lodge. Mr. Bounderby gives a speech of thanks to the assembled guests, very much in the style of all his speeches, on any occasion. He wants his friends to know that he is Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, that marrying Tom Gradgrind’s daughter—who, he says, he...
(The entire section is 649 words.)
Book II, Chapters 1-3: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1: Effects in the Bank
Chapter 2: Mr. James Harthouse
Chapter 3: The Whelp
Mr. James Harthouse: a gentleman from London, newly recruited to Gradgrind’s party
It is the end of a hot summer day in Coketown, some time after Bounderby and Louisa’s wedding. Mrs. Sparsit is installed at the bank. Bitzer, Gradgrind’s diligent old pupil, now employed at the bank as a porter (and as Bounderby’s informant and spy) keeps her company while she consumes a late afternoon tea.
The conversation turns to Louisa’s brother Tom, whose presence in the bank Bitzer resents. Bitzer says Tom is a slacker with expensive habits, and that he wouldn’t be where he was if he didn’t have a “friend at court,” meaning his sister, Louisa.
A knock at the door interrupts their chat. Bitzer lets in a well-dressed man of 35 or so, well-spoken, handsome, a gentleman. He explains he is in Coketown to meet Mr. Bounderby, that he carries a letter of introduction to Bounderby from Mr. Gradgrind, and that he has been mistakenly directed to the bank by a passing mill hand. Mrs. Sparsit is only too happy to give him directions to Mr. Bounderby’s residence—and to enlighten him about the Bounderby family, especially Louisa.
The strange gentleman is Mr. James Harthouse, a man of good family who has done a little of everything in his time, and been bored by it...
(The entire section is 828 words.)
Book II, Chapters 4-5: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4: Men and Brothers
Chapter 5: Men and Masters
Slackbridge: trade union leader
The union leader Slackbridge holds forth to a large, attentive audience of working men. He has learned of a working man among them who has declined to support certain measures proposed by Coketown’s union of factory operatives. Slackbridge, addressing a meeting of The United Aggregate Tribunal, denounces this man as a “traitor and a craven and a recreant.” The crowd, which had been with him, is divided—there are calls from the hall to see the man himself and hear what he has to say.
The holdout is Stephen Blackpool, who in refusing to join in with the others is acting out of his own conviction that the union is wrong in its demand for “regulations” in the mills. He is also, as he explains in a short but eloquent speech that contrasts favorably with Slackbridge’s overheated verbiage, remaining true to a promise he has made to stay out of trouble (the promise, to Rachael, is alluded to in Chapter 10). The chairman of the meeting pleads with Stephen to reconsider, to “come in” with the others so as to avoid being “sent to Coventry” (ostracized or shunned). Stephen, his mind made up, slowly walks out of the hall.
For the next four days Stephen lives and works in complete isolation. He avoids meeting with Rachael for fear that were she to be seen in his...
(The entire section is 656 words.)
Book II, Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6: Fading Away
Stephen, Rachael, and the mysterious old lady, who has reappeared outside Bounderby’s house and has been hospitably invited for tea in Stephen’s room, are just about to settle down to their meal when Stephen’s landlady comes up the stairs and whispers the name of some visitors in Stephen’s ear. Catching the name Bounderby, the old lady retreats fearfully into a dim corner of the room. Stephen, candle in hand, shows Louisa up. She is followed by her brother, Tom. She has come, Louisa tells Stephen, because of what has just happened at her husband’s. She wants to know what plans he has, and if there is really no hope of his finding work in Coketown. Louisa then offers him money; Stephen, declining the much larger amount she produces from her purse, thankfully agrees to accept two pounds from her.
Tom, who has not been paying much attention to any of this, beckons Stephen out of the room and hurriedly explains that he has thought of a way to do him a good turn. He asks Stephen to “just hang about the bank an hour or so” for the next few nights until he leaves Coketown. If Tom can perform this service, he will pass him the word through Bitzer, the bank porter. Making sure that Stephen understands what he is to do, Tom rushes off with his sister.
For the next few nights before his departure from Coketown, Stephen dutifully loiters outside Bounderby’s bank, but no message...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Book II, Chapters 7-8: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7: Gunpowder
Chapter 8: Explosion
Ever since being dazzled, on the evening he first met Louisa, by the affectionate smile she gave to her brother, James Harthouse has wanted the same smile turned on him. His conversion to Bounderby and Gradgrind’s political and economic views, his making himself an intimate of the Bounderby household, his becoming a frequent guest at Mr. Bounderby’s newly acquired summer house—all have had this same end in view.
Mr. Harthouse knows from Tom’s indiscretions the night he got the boy drunk that his sister has entered a loveless marriage for his sake. He also senses that if he appears to take an interest in Tom he will gain her confidence. Accordingly, when Harthouse finds Louisa alone in her favorite spot on the grounds of Bounderby’s estate, a secluded clearing in the woods, it is of her brother, and of her brother’s problems, chiefly his habit of gambling, that he speaks.
When Tom himself appears through the trees, Harthouse draws him aside for a private talk. Strolling with Tom through Mr. Bounderby’s rose garden, Harthouse offers to settle his gambling debts, asking in return only that he act more kindly toward his sister. Tom seems extraordinarily moody and distracted—he keeps tearing up rosebuds, scattering their petals, even chewing the buds. Harthouse’s offer to “be his banker,” intended to set his mind at ease, has the opposite...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
Book II, Chapters 9: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9: Hearing the Last of It
Mrs. Sparsit, invited to stay on at Bounderby’s country retreat “to recover the tone of her nerves,” settles in to her old role as housekeeper and her new, self-appointed, role as spy. She reclaims her place at Bounderby’s table and prowls around the house, keeping her sharp eyes on its inhabitants.
A hastily written note arrives from Stone Lodge, carried by Bitzer, informing Louisa that her mother is seriously ill. Louisa immediately travels to her old home to be at her mother’s side. She finds her mother as usual propped up on a couch, with Sissy as ever in attendance. Jane, Louisa’s sister, now a girl of 11, is also in the room.
Mrs. Gradgrind is so weak, and she is so wrapped in shawls, that her voice sounds as if it were coming from the bottom of a well. Her mind, never very consecutive, wanders into odd corners. When her eldest daughter is announced, she reverts to the puzzle that confronted her when Louisa’s marriage to Bounderby was announced: what name to call her son-in-law. Mrs. Gradgrind asks for Jane to be brought forward, so that Louisa can see how much she is beginning to resemble her older sister.
The resemblance of Jane and Louisa reminds her mother of something she had wanted to speak to Louisa about. Evidently it is something she wants only Louisa to hear, as she asks Sissy to leave the room. She says that Louisa and her...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
Book II, Chapters 10-12: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 10: Mrs. Sparsit’s Staircase
Chapter 11: Lower and Lower
Chapter 12: Down
The first chance Mrs. Sparsit gets to spy on Louisa and Mr. Harthouse at Bounderby’s country place, she can only watch them—watch them sit close together in the garden one evening, bending toward one another, their heads almost touching—but she can’t hear a word. They are talking about Blackpool, and whether he can be responsible for the robbery. Louisa is ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, but she acknowledges how little she knows about him or about any of the men and women of his class. Harthouse comes close to convincing her about Blackpool’s probable guilt, and they stroll off for a walk, followed all the while by Mrs. Sparsit’s eagle eye.
Back at the bank, with Bounderby away on business for a few days, Mrs. Sparsit keeps alert for any suspicious sign of progress in Mr. Harthouse’s campaign of seduction. Having learned from Tom that Harthouse plans to spend the evening with him in Coketown before going away for a while, Mrs. Sparsit leaps to the conclusion that Mr. Harthouse is putting Tom off, and that he is at that very moment with Tom’s sister. Impulsively, she hurries onto the train to Bounderby’s house in the country. She creeps through the woods and, hiding behind a tree, hears and sees Harthouse, who has himself arrived secretly and on horseback, profess his love many times and place...
(The entire section is 918 words.)
Book III, Chapters 1-2: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1: Another Thing Needful
Chapter 2: Very Ridiculous
Louisa wakens from a deep sleep. She is in her old room, on her own bed. She feels weak and her head hurts. Her little sister Jane is present. Jane tells Louisa that it was Sissy who had prepared the room and brought her there. Louisa turns her head away; just at this moment, she doesn’t want to hear about Sissy’s kindness and thoughtfulness.
Louisa’s father enters the room and sits down beside her. He speaks to her awhile in uncharacteristically subdued tones, holds her hand, gently rearranges her disordered hair, and then when Louisa no longer replies to his questions quietly leaves the room. His place is soon taken by Sissy Jupe, whose steadfast love and loyalty so overwhelm Louisa that she kneels before the girl and asks for her pity and her compassion.
The evening of the day following Louisa’s flight to her father’s finds Harthouse at his hotel, baffled as to why he has received no word from her. After leaving her on horseback, he had waited up for her all the night, searched for her the whole of the following day, and is now in a state of painful suspense, just settling in to try to read the newspapers when a waiter comes to tell him that a young lady wishes to see him. It is Sissy Jupe, a young woman he has never seen before, come to tell him that he must never see Louisa again as long as he lives, that he must leave...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Book III, Chapter 3: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 3: Very Decided
Mrs. Sparsit, ill from her late-night ordeal in the rain, pursues Bounderby to his hotel in London, tells him all she has seen and heard (and, no doubt, all that she imagines and fears), and faints dead away. After the usual restorative measures are applied, the two return by train to Coketown and proceed directly to Stone Lodge, where Bounderby bursts in upon Gradgrind demanding loudly to know where Louisa is. Told that she is right there in the house, Bounderby turns on Mrs. Sparsit and demands an apology for inventing stories. His housekeeper being incapable of speech, Bounderby escorts her out to the coach that conveyed them to Gradgrind’s and tells her to return forthwith to the bank.
Alone with Gradgrind, Bounderby declares himself distinctly dissatisfied with what he calls his “treatment” by Louisa. Gradgrind ventures to say that there are “qualities in Louisa which have been harshly neglected and a little perverted.” He goes on to recommend that Bounderby allow his wife to stay on at home, attended by Sissy. Bounderby, who swells and turns various shades of red as he listens to all this, launches into one of his familiar tirades. He is Josiah Bounderby of Coketown; he knows the town; knows its bricks, knows its works, knows its smoke, and knows its hands; they’re real; Gradgrind’s new talk of imaginative qualities is not; he knows what Gradgrind and his daughter really...
(The entire section is 624 words.)
Book III, Chapters 4-5: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4: Lost
Chapter 5: Found
Despite his domestic difficulties, Mr. Bounderby remains intent on investigating the bank robbery. Hoping it will crack the case open, Mr. Bounderby has a “WANTED” poster for the missing Stephen Blackpool printed up in great black letters and pasted all over town before daybreak. The agitator Slackbridge denounces Blackpool with his usual overheated language, adding to his former denunciations of Stephen the names of thief and plunderer.
On the same evening that workers cluster around the posters in Coketown, the case suddenly erupts into the quiet confines of Stone Lodge. In the presence of her brother, Tom, who has arrived with Bounderby, Stephen Blackpool’s old friend and “guardian angel” Rachael, her father, and Sissy, Louisa confirms the truth of Rachael’s account of the visit she and Tom paid to Stephen the night he was fired.
Rachael says she has written Stephen about the charges against him and fully expects to see him return of his own free will in two day’s time. Bounderby, who has treated Rachael with his customary tact, is less sure. Bidding everyone good night, he takes his leave, closely followed by Tom, whose farewells consist of a brief “Good night, father,” and a scowl for his sister.
Rachael, who is terribly upset and cannot shake the thought that Louisa might have meant something more by her visit than simple charity,...
(The entire section is 1013 words.)
Book III, Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6: The Starlight
Rachael and Sissy Jupe spend a Sunday in the country just outside Coketown. Walking alone they come across a man’s hat lying on the grass. Inside, written in his own hand, is the name Stephen Blackpool. Directly in front of the two women yawns the gaping mouth of an abandoned coal works, one of many that dot the landscape outside the city.
Sissy convinces Rachael not to give way entirely to lamentation, that there is a chance Stephen may still be alive at the bottom of the shaft. Marking the spot with a shawl, the two set off in different directions; Rachael back toward where they came, Sissy in another direction entirely, each hoping to raise the alarm about Stephen as they go.
Sissy comes across two men lying asleep by an engine house, wakes them, and manages to convey the nature of the emergency. One of the men has been lying in a drunken slumber, but when he grasps that a man has fallen down what his comrade shouts is the Old Hell Shaft, he dunks his head in a bucket of water and sobers quickly. Later he is at the head of those most useful at the site, as equipment and men and women from surrounding villages gather and a vigil begins.
Rachael returns with a surgeon. Few in the crowd think there is a chance that the fallen man might still be alive. Hours pass, the day turns to afternoon, then evening. Torches are brought out. Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa, Tom...
(The entire section is 882 words.)
Book III, Chapter 7: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7: Whelp-Hunting
Tom Gradgrind stands by the Old Hell Shaft, next to Bounderby and a little apart from his father and sister. Sissy, seeing him there and watching him take in the fact that his father has been called to Stephen’s side, leaves Rachael, steals up behind Tom and whispers something. The two confer briefly, and Tom leaves the scene without being seen.
As Sissy explains to Mr. Gradgrind, she had remembered where her father’s old circus was at this time of year and had directed Tom to flee there and ask Mr. Sleary to take him in and hide him. Mr. Gradgrind, relieved that his son is in no immediate danger of arrest, takes heart when he realizes that Sleary’s Circus is performing in a town not far from Liverpool, from where Tom could be shipped far away from England.
Using different routes to get there, Mr. Gradgrind, Louisa, and Sissy travel to Sleary’s Circus. Sissy and Louisa arrive first. Sissy is warmly welcomed by Mr. Sleary and her old friends among the performers. Louisa asks after Tom; Mr. Sleary points out where he is on stage, completely disguised as a comic black servant. When later in the day Mr. Gradgrind arrives and enters the now empty circus ring, it is in this grotesque and ludicrous garb that his son appears before him, his face a mask of black greasepaint. After hearing the full story of the robbery, for which Tom says he alone was responsible, his father tells...
(The entire section is 827 words.)
Book III, Chapters 8-9: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8: Philosophical
Chapter 9: Final
Bitzer stands before Gradgrind in the circus ring, holding Tom fast. Mr. Gradgrind, “broken and submissive,” begins to appeal to him to let his son go. Each appeal is met with polite, “business-like,” and “logical” refusal. No talk of “heart,” no consideration of loyalty to his old master for the training that was bestowed upon him will induce him to release Tom. Bitzer has suspected Tom of the bank robbery from the first, and he’s sure that if he delivers Tom over to Mr. Bounderby his employer would promote him to Tom’s old place in the bank. No amount of money (Gradgrind asks him to name his sum) will change his mind. In calculating the matter—as he calculates all matters—he determines that his “compounding the felony” of Tom’s crime by accepting money to let him go would not be so safe a course of action for him as returning Tom to Coketown and enjoying “improved prospects in the Bank.”
Mr. Sleary, listening to all this, announces that he had no idea that Tom’s wrongdoing was as serious as bank robbery. He will make sure nobody sees Tom and Bitzer leave for the station, but that’s all he can do. Louisa and Gradgrind fall into despair when they hear this, but Sissy knows Sleary is up to something. As the company once more leaves the circus, Sleary draws her aside and excitedly whispers his plan. He will take Tom and Bitzer with...
(The entire section is 1049 words.)