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).

Frequently Asked Questions about Hard Times

Hard Times

The novel's main conflict has to do with Louisa's disastrous marriage to Mr. Bounderby and Tom's theft from Bounderby's bank. But the underlying conflict in Hard Times is the opposition of emotion...

Latest answer posted June 6, 2021, 1:07 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

The timeline of Bitzer's character begins in chapter 2 of Hard Times, which is titled "Murdering the Innocents." He is a young boy going to school at Gradgrind's academy. From the very start,...

Latest answer posted June 5, 2021, 1:53 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Thomas Gradgrind is a man of his times. A middle-aged man living in the socially transforming times of the Industrial Revolution, Gradgrind has the formidable task of educating the future...

Latest answer posted June 6, 2021, 1:46 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

In the opening of Charles Dickens's Hard Times, the philosophy of Gradgrind's model academy is spelled out in great detail: Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but...

Latest answer posted June 5, 2021, 3:19 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Dickens wrote Hard Times as an attack on the philosophy of utilitarianism. This philosophy, developed by Jeremy Bentham, argued that society should be organized around the idea of promoting the...

Latest answer posted June 3, 2021, 11:46 am (UTC)

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Hard Times

In Hard Times, Charles Dickens presents a generally negative view of materialism as a driving force in the rapidly industrializing Victorian society. Dickens is especially hard on factory owners,...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 9:39 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Dickens understood and was angered that workers were oppressed and earning barely enough to survive after very long hours in unhealthy factory conditions. He was also well aware of the labor...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 1:32 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Hard Times

Sissy and Rachel discover evidence that Stephen Blackpool, who has been missing for some time, fell down the Old Hell mine shaft. They find his hat, with his name written in it, and then Rachel...

Latest answer posted June 5, 2021, 12:13 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

M’Choakumchild is the name of a schoolteacher assigned to instruct Sissy Jupe in the fact-based education that Gradgrind supports. His name sounds like his role as a teacher: he is Mr....

Latest answer posted June 6, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

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Hard Times

Josiah Bounderby is the "great manufacturer" in Hard Times. He is described as banker, merchant, and manufacturer. He owns the textile factory that employs many of the poor people of Coketown for...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 1:51 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Louisa ends up a good student of the hard-headed, money-oriented utilitarian education that her father provides for her. She marries Josiah Bounderby, another hardheaded individual, for his money...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 12:21 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Louisa, followed by Mrs. Sparsit, leaves her country house in the pouring rain and heads for the train station. She gets on a train, planning to meet and elope with Harthouse. However, she has a...

Latest answer posted June 5, 2021, 12:50 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Hard Times refers both to the difficulties of the factory workers in the age of industrialism and to the utilitarian philosophy that encouraged people's hearts to harden and imaginations to...

Latest answer posted June 6, 2021, 12:20 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

In Charles Dickens's Hard Times, Mr. Sleary is a circus owner whose philosophy of life stands in sharp contrast with some of the novel's other characters (especially Thomas Gradgrind, Josiah...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 2:49 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Hard Times

When his bank is robbed, Bounderby does not in the least suspect Tom Gradgrind at first, although Tom is the thief. Tom has spent time planning the robbery so as to divert attention from himself....

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 2:58 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Hard Times

Like a good Victorian novelist would, Dickens uses a highly knowledgeable third-person narrator who looks down from "above" and can speak with authority about what is going on in the novel. There...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 3:27 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

We learn that Mr. Bounderby is "seven or eight and forty," meaning that he is forty-seven or forty-eight years old. This makes him roughly thirty years older than Louisa at the time of their...

Latest answer posted June 4, 2021, 12:40 pm (UTC)

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Hard Times

Louisa Gradgrind marries Josiah Bounderby. He is a wealthy banker, merchant, and industrialist, owner of the textile factory in Coketown that pollutes the environment and exploits its workers. He...

Latest answer posted June 5, 2021, 11:46 am (UTC)

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Hard Times

Sissy Jupe represents all the magic, compassion, and creativity that has been sucked out of life by Gradgrind's fact-focused utilitarian philosophy. She is the abandoned daughter of a circus...

Latest answer posted June 6, 2021, 11:23 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Hard Times

One of Dickens's talents as a writer is his ability to be unabashedly condemning of the grimmer aspects of Victorian life. He is, therefore, less than flattering in his description of Coketown,...

Latest answer posted June 3, 2021, 12:03 pm (UTC)

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Summary