Hard Times Book II, Chapter 6: Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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Book II, Chapter 6: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does the strange old woman come to be in Rachael’s company?

2. What do Stephen, Rachael, and the old woman have for their tea, and how does the meal fulfill the standard testimony of the Coketown magnates that “these people lived like princes, Sir”?

3. What name does the old lady give herself and what does she say about her son?

4. Early on in her visit, what potentially hurtful question does Louisa ask Stephen?

5. Louisa learns that her husband’s firing of Stephen will have what effect upon Stephen’s reputation?

6. What does Dickens say about the manner in which Stephen accepts Louisa’s offer of help?

7. What nervous action does Tom perform as he makes his proposal to Stephen?

8. Where do Rachael and Stephen take the old lady shortly after the visitors leave?

9. What feeling comes over Stephen as he waits outside Bounderby’s bank?

10. What time of day is it when Stephen leaves Coketown?

Answers
1. The old lady is in Coketown on her mysterious annual pilgrimage. Coming across Rachael on the street outside Bounderby’s home, she falls to talking with her—much as once before she had done with Stephen.

2. The tea they consume consists of real tea, lump sugar, a new loaf of bread from a nearby shop, and fresh butter. Dickens suggests that the Coketown magnates would point to these items as evidence of the well-being, or perhaps the profligacy, of their employees.

3. The old lady says her name is Mrs. Pegler and that the son she once had she has since lost. (Stephen and Rachael assume she means he is dead.)

4. Louisa asks Stephen if Rachael is his wife.

5. Louisa learns that, once fired by one employer, Stephen will become known to all the others as a “troublesome,” and presumably unemployable, man.

6. Dickens observes that Stephen’s acceptance of Louisa’s gift had a “grace in it that Lord Chesterfield could not have taught his son in a century.” Chesterfield, the eighteenth-century author of Letters to his Son, was a frequent target of Dickens’ satire.

7. Tom twists and screws his finger in a buttonhole of Stephen’s coat.

8. Stephen and Rachael accompany the old lady to the Traveler’s Coffee House, an inn near the railway station where she will stay before returning to the country by next morning’s train.

9. Outside the bank, Stephen has an uncomfortable sensation of “being for the first time a disreputable character.”

10. Stephen leaves Coketown at dawn.