Hard Times Study Guide
Introduction to Hard Times
Hard Times is a novel by Charles Dickens. It was first serialized in Dickens’s periodical Household Words, with many believing that the novel was likely an effort to boost the sales of the failing publication. Hard Times is significantly shorter, and also decidedly darker in tone, than most of Dickens’s other works, leading to a wide array of critical controversy. Some viewed the angrier, more pessimistic tone of the novel as a more authentic form of sociopolitical commentary than Dickens’s more comedic or prominently satirical works. However, others found its bleakness and relative brevity limiting.
The primary focuses of most Dickens works, but especially Hard Times, are the working conditions of the poor and the flaws of the socioeconomic structures within Britain. The fictitious setting of Coketown is representative of any number of mill and factory towns that arose as the industrial revolution continued, and the harsh working conditions depicted in the novel were based on Dickens's personal observations of workhouses during his travels.
In addition to its socioeconomic commentary, a secondary theme within the novel is the intersection between imagination, wealth, and morality. The wealthy characters in the novel are generally deeply immoral, lacking in compassion and consideration for other people. The children raised without aesthetic or creative education are similarly devoid of emotional and moral grounding. It is suggested that morality, while not necessarily wholly incompatible with wealth or a lack of creativity, is negatively impacted by a worldview and an education that denies the existence of considerations outside of pure facts and statistics.
A Brief Biography of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was arguably the most prominent English novelist of the Victorian era, known as much for the epic sweep and realistic texture of his fiction as for his keen awareness of the social issues of his time. Raised in an impoverished family and forced to work in a factory from a young age, Dickens went on to work as a journalist as a young man and eventually began writing and selling fiction in the serialized format typical of the time. His first novel was The Pickwick Paperas, published in 1836, which quickly became an enormous success. Over the next three decades, Dickens produced a monumental body of work—including novels, plays, short stories, and nonfiction—with broad popular appeal and literary richness. By championing social causes in his works, creating vivid, unforgettable characters, and caring for his audience as much as he did for his pen, Dickens established himself as one of the greatest authors of nineteennth-century England. His best-known works include Oliver Twist (1838), A Christmas Carol (1843), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859).