Hard Times Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

Hard Times book cover
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What is the main conflict in Hard Times?

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The main thematic conflict in Hard Times is between utilitarianism and humanism. The utilitarian philosophy represented by Mr. Gradgrind emphasizes reason and practicality at the cost of everything else—namely imagination and compassion for society's unfortunate members. He enforces this philosophy on his children, who grow up emotionally stunted and miserable as a result of only being fed "facts, facts, facts."

For example, much conflict arises from the miserable match Gradgrind makes between his daughter Louisa and his friend Bounderby as a result of this extremely practical but inhumane value system where marriage is made solely based on material benefit.

Sissy Jupe is Gradgrind's antithesis. She believes individuals must be valued regardless of how much money they make because people have inherent worth solely because they are human. Unlike Gradgrind and his fellow utilitarians, for Sissy Jupe, the ends can never justify the means.

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