Book 2, Chapter 5 Summary

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Last Updated January 12, 2023.

Mr. Bounderby blows himself up into a metaphorical gale when Stephen stands before him. Mr. Harthouse is present, too, as Stephen simply maintains that he has nothing to say. Mr. Bounderby insists, but Stephen remains firm. All Stephen will say is that he has made promises.

Stephen ends up talking to Louisa, who is also present. He says that he has known the men in Coketown his whole life, and he understands them well. They truly want to do what is right, he insists, but he will not say anything else. He has not come to complain but because he was sent for. This whole thing has become quite a muddle, and somehow the Hands are always wrong and the gentlemen are always right.

Mr. Bounderby declares that men like Slackbridge should be brought up as felons and shipped off. Stephen replies that such an action will not solve the problem. The trouble does not lie with them. A “strong hand” on the workers will not solve the problem either, nor will the insistence that the owners are always right and the workers always wrong. Only treating the workers as true human beings will do the job.

Mr. Bounderby then fires Stephen, telling him he can finish his current project. Then he must leave. Stephen realizes that if he is dismissed, he will never be hired elsewhere. He calls on heaven’s help as he departs.

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