Charles Dickens’s Hard Times is a novel divided into three books. These books are titled “Sowing,” “Reaping,” and “Garnering.” Explain how...

Charles Dickens’s Hard Times is a novel divided into three books. These books are titled “Sowing,” “Reaping,” and “Garnering.” Explain how each book’s title relates to the events, characters, and themes that Dickens addresses in it, and analyze how the novel’s three sections convey Dickens’s central message about rationality and logic in mid-nineteenth-century England. Cite specific examples from the novel in your response.

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Hard Times is a novel written by famed English writer and social critic Charles Dickens. It was first published in 1854, in Dickens’s weekly periodical magazine Household Words, in the form of a serial. As Dickens wrote the novel with the intention to describe and criticize the educational system, the social classes, and the socio-economic climate of post-industrial English society in the 1800s, many analysts agree that Hard Times should be classified as a social and critical satire as well.

Set in the fictional city of Coketown, the novel describes the people’s opinions that “fact and logic” helped advanced the English society much more than “fancy and imagination” did.

Dickens separates the novel into three sections, ironically titled Sowing, Reaping, and Garnering. Each section carries a certain message which relates to the main theme of the novel, and combined together, the titles outline the basic plot of Hard Times. Essentially, through his metaphors and analogies, Dickens explains to us how all of the main protagonists sow, reap, and garner their own future.

  • Sowing

To sow—to plant (seed) by scattering it on or in the Earth.

The first book introduces us to the characters and their lives. We meet the cold, factual, and calculating utilitarianist Mr. Thomas Gradgrind; his pupil Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe, who comes to live with him and his family; his daughter Louisa, who is married off to Mr. Gradgrind’s good friend Josiah Bounderby, a man thirty years her senior; and Thomas Jr., Gradgrind’s ambitious son, who starts working as an apprentice in Bounderby’s bank.

Thus, the title of the first book is quite fitting, as each and every one of these characters “plants” their personalities and their identities to the reader. Moreover, Mr. Gradgrind is adamant on teaching the children the importance of facts, logic, and rationality, to the point where he encourages them to ignore their human emotions and instincts. In other words, all of the children are “sown” with facts. Gradgrind says,

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.

  • Reaping

To reap—to cut or gather (a crop or harvest).

In the second book, the characters basically “reap what they’ve sown.” By making the logical decision to marry Bounderby, Louisa “harvests” her unhappy marriage and, ultimately, her collapse, realizing that her father has transformed her into a cold and emotionless person, incapable of love; Tom’s overly ambitious and amoral nature leads him to rob Bounderby’s bank; and the old and unfortunate factory worker Stephen Blackpool is wrongly accused of committing the robbery and is exiled.

Furthermore, Dickens describes the dark and gloomy environment of Coketown. He explains how the workers are practically transformed into impassive and expressionless mechanical beings who “reap” only facts and neglect their emotions. As Blackpool puts it,

Look how we live, an’ wheer we live, an’ in what numbers, an’ by what chances, an’ wi’ what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a-goin’, and how they never works us no nigher to onny distant object-‘ceptin awlus Death.

  • Garnering

To garner—to gather or collect something, usually after much work or with difficulty.

In the third book, the characters try to restore the balance in their lives by finally accepting that not everything is as black and white as it seems and that life has numerous gray areas that shouldn’t be ignored.

After realizing that everyone suspects that he was the one who committed the robbery, Tom tries to escape. Unfortunately, he begins to suffer from a new onset of fever and dies, but not before writing a letter in which he expresses his guilt and regret. Louisa remarries and has children of her own, and she swears that she will always teach them that imagination, love, and kindness are the most important notions in life. Sissy embraces her expressive nature and remains a good friend to Louisa for the rest of her life. Finally, Mr. Gradgrind tries to be more emotional and promises to teach his children and his pupils that the “fancy” is as equally important as the “fact.” Dickens writes,

Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn gray and cold.

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