Explain why Stephen's life is unfair in Hard Times.
Poor Stephen Blackpool! The name itself is perhaps symbolic of the dark, murky pool which swallows him up with its misery. He is a hardworking, sensitive man that, like others in the story, is subject to a mismatched marriage that denies him true happiness in the form of a union with Rachel, who is shown to be much more suitable for Stephen than his drunken wife, who is described as follows:
A creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains, and splashes, but so much fouler than that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her.
It is her living presence that stands in the way of Stephen's happiness. At every turn he seems to be damaged by trying to do the right thing: he is shunned by his fellow workers for not supporting a strike, and then shunned by his employer, Mr. Bounderby. His goodness is taken advantage of most cruelly by Tom to frame him for the crime of robbery that Tom himself committed. Lastly, he dies tragically after an accident, with the one consolation of his poor and miserable life being the way in which he died and the starlight that gave him hope and consolation:
The star had shown him where to find the God of the poor; and through humility, and sorrow, and forgiveness, he had gone to his Redeemer's rest.
Throughout the novel Stephen stands as a man who is utterly broken and crushed by the mechanised system of Coketown, a system that gives no hope or life or love to those it uses and abuses. Even though Stephen is at heart a good man, that very goodness becomes a weakness, and we see that very little in his life is actually fair at all. His life shows the unfairness of mechanisation.