Hard Times Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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What kind of working conditions are implied by the capitalists’ complaints that open book 2?

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As the narrator satirically describes it at the beginning of the first chapter of the second book of Hard Times, the mill owners, who are compared to fragile china, are undone (driven out of business) under the following circumstances:

They were ruined, when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone, when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke.

From this description, we can infer that laboring children are not sent to school but keep on working in the mills. We can also infer that any kind of attempt to make machinery or working conditions in the mills safer is not occurring, because that, too, would "ruin" the millers. We can imagine, therefore, that workers are continuing to be chopped up in machinery. Further, we can surmise that the owners are not about to invest in reducing the pollution their factories create, as that would also cost money. The capitalists seem to complain that even the smallest steps to make life better and more humane for the Coketown workers would lead to bankruptcy and business collapse, so these owners are not going to initiate any reforms. Of course, as the text goes on the imply, the owners are hardly about to suffer financially to any great extent if they institute these changes. Nevertheless, child labor will still be used, factories will continue to be so unsafe as to cause frequent injuries, and people will continue to breathe bad air.

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