Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1049
Chapter 8: Philosophical
Chapter 9: Final
Bitzer stands before Gradgrind in the circus ring, holding Tom fast. Mr. Gradgrind, “broken and submissive,” begins to appeal to him to let his son go. Each appeal is met with polite, “business-like,” and “logical” refusal. No talk of “heart,” no consideration of loyalty to his old master for the training that was bestowed upon him will induce him to release Tom. Bitzer has suspected Tom of the bank robbery from the first, and he’s sure that if he delivers Tom over to Mr. Bounderby his employer would promote him to Tom’s old place in the bank. No amount of money (Gradgrind asks him to name his sum) will change his mind. In calculating the matter—as he calculates all matters—he determines that his “compounding the felony” of Tom’s crime by accepting money to let him go would not be so safe a course of action for him as returning Tom to Coketown and enjoying “improved prospects in the Bank.”
Mr. Sleary, listening to all this, announces that he had no idea that Tom’s wrongdoing was as serious as bank robbery. He will make sure nobody sees Tom and Bitzer leave for the station, but that’s all he can do. Louisa and Gradgrind fall into despair when they hear this, but Sissy knows Sleary is up to something. As the company once more leaves the circus, Sleary draws her aside and excitedly whispers his plan. He will take Tom and Bitzer with him in a carriage drawn by one of his show horses, and he will have one of his trained dogs follow. The horse will, on command, start to dance about; Tom will jump out of the carriage and be picked up by Childers, driving a gig (a small carriage); if Bitzer tries to follow Tom, the dog will keep him and hold him.
The following morning Sleary arrives at the inn where Sissy, Louisa, and Gradgrind have all passed a suspenseful night. Ordering a glass of his invariable brandy and water, he is happy to inform them that the plan went off without a hitch, and Tom is probably at this moment on board a ship. Gradgrind offers him money, but Sleary refuses—for himself. Five pounds for Childers, a family man, a collar and a set of bells for the dog and the horse, dinner for the circus’s company, the promise for the future of a “bespeak“ (a paid performance), and for himself a little more brandy and water would all be welcome and sufficient.
Sleary then asks for a parting word alone with Gradgrind. He tells him the story of Merrylegs, Sissy’s father’s dog, who had reappeared, blind and lame, among the circus people a little over a year ago, searched for Sleary, stood on his hindlegs, wagged his tail, and died. Sleary had thought of writing Sissy about the incident, feeling sure that it meant her father had died, but had decided against troubling her with the news. Calling the ladies back into the room Mr. Sleary makes his farewells, concluding with a repetition of his old credo, “People mutht be amuthed.”
Some little time after these events, Bounderby sits at his dining room table, beneath his portrait, stewing. He is angry that Mrs. Sparsit has so far overreached herself as to meddle in his affairs and expose him to public ridicule, and he has made up his mind to fire her. Which, after some unpleasant words, he does. Standing in front of the fire, Mr. Bounderby thinks forward to the future.
That future holds, the narrator tells us, for Mrs. Sparsit a descent into pinched living with the unspeakable Mrs. Scadgers; for Bitzer, his hoped for promotion; for Bounderby, continuing prosperity, until in five year’s time his sudden death, of a fit, on a Coketown street. For Mr. Gradgrind, it holds attempts to make his facts and figures serve Faith, Hope and Charity, and the consequent contempt of all his old political associates. For Rachael, it holds more work, cheerfully undertaken, and continuing care of a degraded, drunken woman (Stephen’s wife) who can sometimes be seen in her company. For Tom it contains remorse and grief, and, in the course of a long voyage back to England, illness and death with his sister’s name on his lips. For Sissy, it contains marriage and happy children. Not so for Louisa. For her the future holds a life-long dedication to learning about and understanding her “humbler fellow-creatures,” and beautifying, as best she knows how, with “imaginative graces and delights” their lives of “machinery and reality.”
Everything Bitzer says in his interchange with Mr. Gradgrind he has been taught by the Gradgrind philosophy. In effect he is quoting back to Gradgrind all of Gradgrind’s own arguments. Dickens handles the encounter so as to bring out all its irony. Gradgrind uses the language of entreaty and prayer; Bitzer responds with the language of argument and debate and calculation of motives. Gradgrind appeals to the emotions, to ideas of gratitude and loyalty; Bitzer responds with principles of political economy, with “self-interest.”
The dialogue between Gradgrind and Bitzer is not the only “philosophical” portion of Chapter 8. Toward the end, when Sleary draws Gradgrind aside at the inn, Sleary launches into a characteristically humorous meditation on dogs and then relates the affecting story of Merrylegs, Sissy’s father’s old dog. His point, which is meant to directly counter Bitzer’s “doctrines,” is that there exists, in man and animal alike, a mysterious force of love, “not all Thelf-Interetht after all.”
The “Dip into the Future” that the narrator provides in the final chapter of Hard Times is strikingly unlike the endings of Dickens’ other novels. Of all the characters mentioned, only Sissy’s future, with its promise of children, is of the “happily ever after” variety, and it is barely mentioned. The rest are consigned to varying degrees of unhappiness. Louisa’s fate, which is explicitly contrasted to Sissy’s, will be to engage in some sort of philanthropic endeavor. She will attempt to fulfill that “struggling disposition to believe in a wider and nobler humanity” that all her father’s teachings were not able to eradicate from her heart.
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