Hard Times, written in 1854, realistically portrays the problems that the Industrial Revolution brought to England. By the mid-1800s, England had already largely industrialized, and Dickens's fictional town of Coketown in Hard Times is the site of labor unrest. His novel depicts the plight of the working class. Like the other "Hands," or industrial workers in the novel, Dickens's character Stephen Blackpool works in Bounderby's factory in a state of poverty and degradation. Unlike the other workers, however, he refuses to join a union, thinking it will only worsen the unrest between labor and industrialists.
Dickens's novel not only shows the tensions between labor and capitalists and the plight of the working class that characterized industrializing England, but it also shows the plight of women at the time. For example, Louisa Gradgrind, an educated woman, is forced to marry Bounderby, who is twice her age and with whom she has an unhappy union. Laws at the time also forbade all but the wealthy to obtain a divorce, so Stephen Blackpool must remain married to his drunken wife. Dickens's novel portrays many of the problems in English society at the time.