What is the significance of the three books in Hard Times?
Novels were usually released in three volumes in this time period. In Hard Times, the first volume or book is called "Sowing," the second "Reaping," and the third "Garnering."
The section titles recall the Biblical adage the one reaps (harvests) what one sows (plants.) In the first part of the book, Gradgrind sows or plants the principles of Utilitarianism firmly into his children's heads—and he also plants the fanciful Sissy Jupe into his household.
Having being taught to live with their heads and not with their hearts, Louisa and Tom pursue materialism coldly. The reaping or harvest of this sowing in part two is disastrous. Louisa makes a bad marriage to Bounderby, a man thirty years her senior, while Tom robs the bank where he works. Lousia is also seduced by a young man, James Harthouse. When Mr. Gradgrind finds out about her adultery, he is devastated and repents of how he has raised her.
In part three, "Garnering," or picking up the pieces, the Gradgrinds attempt to repair their broken lives. For example, quite ironically, Sissy arranges for Tom to hide out working in a circus while they work to get him out of the country. Nevertheless, for all Sissy's influence, the younger Gradgrinds have been raised in a way that has left them emotionally cold, and so they remain unhappy.
The three section titles would have indicated to Victorian audiences that the novel will unfold as morality play, and it does, for the Gradgrinds reap the sorry harvest of they what they have sown.
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