Hard Times Summary
by Charles Dickens

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Hard Times Summary

Hard Times by Charles Dickens is a novel about a school superintendent named Thomas Gradgrind who raises his children, Tom and Louisa, strictly.

  • Gradgrind considers expelling a girl named Sissy Jupe for being a bad influence on his children. Realizing that Sissy's father has abandoned her, he lets her stay.
  • When Louisa comes of age, she marries her father's friend Bounderby. Her brother urges her to do this so.
  • Tom robs the bank he works at, and Louisa nearly runs off with a man she’s having an affair with. In the end, neither gets what they want.

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Thomas Gradgrind, proprietor of an experimental private school in Coketown, insists that the children under him learn only facts. He believes that the world has no place for fancy or imagination. His own five children are models of a factual education. Never having been permitted to learn anything of the humanities, they are ignorant of literature and any conception of human beings as individuals. Even fairy tales and nursery rhymes had been excluded from their education.

One day, as he walks from the school to his home, Gradgrind is immensely displeased and hurt to find his two oldest children, Louisa and Tom, trying to peek through the canvas walls of a circus tent. It eases his mind even less to discover that the two youngsters are not at all sorry for acting against the principles under which they had been reared and educated. Later, Gradgrind and his industrialist friend, Mr. Josiah Bounderby, discuss possible means by which the children might have been misled from the study of facts. They conclude that another pupil, Sissy Jupe, whose father is a clown in the circus, had influenced the young Gradgrinds.

Having decided to remove Sissy Jupe from the school, Bounderby and Gradgrind set out immediately to tell the girl’s father. When they arrive at the inn where the Jupes are staying, they find that the father has deserted his daughter. Moved by sentiment, Gradgrind decides to keep the girl in his home and to let her be educated at his school, all against the advice of Bounderby, who thinks Sissy Jupe will only be a bad influence on the Gradgrind children.

Years pass, and Louisa and young Tom have matured. Gradgrind knows that Bounderby, who is thirty years his daughter’s elder, has long wished to marry Louisa. Educated away from sentiment, she agrees to marry Bounderby. Tom, an employee in Bounderby’s bank, is very glad to have his sister marry Bounderby; he wants a friend to help him if he gets into trouble there. In fact, he advises his sister to marry Bounderby for this reason, and she, loving her brother, agrees to help him by marrying the wealthy banker.

Bounderby is very happy to be married to Louisa. After his marriage, he places his elderly housekeeper in a room at the bank. Mrs. Sparsit dislikes Louisa and is determined to keep an eye on her for her employer’s sake. After the marriage, all seems peaceful at the bank, at the Gradgrind home, and at the Bounderby residence.

In the meantime, Gradgrind had been elected to Parliament from his district. He sends out from London an aspiring young politician, James Harthouse, who is to gather facts about the industrial city of Coketown, facts that are to be used in a survey of economic and social life in Britain. To facilitate the young man’s labors, Gradgrind gives him a letter of introduction to Bounderby, who immediately tells Harthouse the story of his career from street ragamuffin to industrialist and banker. Harthouse thinks Bounderby is a fool, but he is greatly interested in the pretty Louisa.

Through his friendship with Bounderby, Harthouse meets Tom Gradgrind, who lives with the Bounderbys. Harthouse takes advantage of Tom’s drinking problem to learn more about Louisa. He had heard that she had been subjected to a dehumanizing education, and feels that she will be easy prey for seduction because of her loveless marriage to the pompous Bounderby. For these reasons, Harthouse decides to test...

(The entire section is 1,669 words.)