Introduction of Hard Times
Hard Times is one of the books, Charles Dickens wrote to criticize the process of industrialization and its impacts on different social divisions of life in England. It was published in 1854. The novel proved a masterpiece of satire. Despite its being the shortest, it is still more biting than other novels by Dickens. With the absence of illustrations and preface as most of the novels of Dickens have, this novel presents the town of Coketown with its stereotypical characters to lash out at materialism, utilitarianism, and industrialism.
Summary of Hard Times
Thomas Gradgrind, the supporter of the philosophy of facts. He currently resides in Coketown, a fictional city in England, with his children Tom and Louisa. Wherever he goes, he propagates his rationalism of facts through his philosophy of eliminating imagination and fancy ideas. To spread his ideas, he opens a new school where he hires teachers for this purpose. To show himself more generous and charitable, he also takes the responsibility of raising, Sissy Jupe, a girl whose father disappeared after having to work for some time in Circus.
Mr. Gradgrind brings up his children with facts and beyond creativity. Therefore, Toma becomes a self-centered pleasure seeker, while Louisa becomes a confusing girl, who does not know herself fully. Although Gradgrind finds a better future for her by marrying her to Bounderby, the old factory tycoon, he still feels that facts have proved useful. On the other hand, despite marrying Louisa, 30 years younger than him, the girl of the age of his daughter, Bounderby still flaunts himself an icon as a self-made person left by his mother and grandmother. Bounderby, therefore, apprentices Tom in his bank while he uses Sissy to take care of the domestic chores and younger Gradgrinds at the house of Mr. Gradgrind, who is Mr. Bounderby’s father-in-law.
On the other side, a poor laborer, Stephen Blackpool, called “Hand” in the novel, is trapped in a love affair with Rachael, who also works in the same factory. The problem, however, arises as Rachel is already married to a person, who leaves her, vanishing from the scene for months. When Stephen tries Rachael’s divorce, he comes to know that it is a very expensive affair and unaffordable for them. He consults Bounderby but he, too, does not prove of much help to them. Though, he meets a strange character during this occasion, Mrs. Pegler, who comes to meet Mr. Bounderby.
Later, Mr. Grandgrind becomes a parliamentarian and James Harthouse becomes his deputy. He tries to groom Louisa and manipulates situations through Mrs. Sparsit, who lives with Bounderby. He fails in his attempt. Meanwhile, the laborers try to forge a union to which Stephen does not join on his feeling that it only plays in the hands of the factory owners. The punishment meted out to him from both these parties, however, is unjust. Mr. Bounderby fires him and other laborers shun him. Heartbroken, Stephen leaves Coketown, and, Louisa helps him before his departure. Although Tom suggests him otherwise and Stephen follows that suggestion. Sadly, there is no assistance from Tom. Finally, he leaves the town for good to some rural area to work and live. However, when the bank robbery occurs shortly after that, Stephen becomes an alleged robber.
When Mrs. Sparsit sees Harthouse and Louisa taking interest in each other, she tries to intervene. She soon comes to know that Louisa has gone to Gradgrind to disclose her predicament, giving Gradgrind a soul-searching opportunity. Sissy Jupe, Louisa’s friend, then goes to Harthouse to advise him to leave the town before he becomes the victim of capitalists’ fury. Despite this, Bounderby goes after Stephen Blackpool, who falls into a pit. He is later discovered by Louisa and Gradgrind. Eventually, it is revealed that Stephen is not a robber. Instead, Tom has robbed the bank who escapes the country through the support of the circus administration and Bitzer stops the entourage. However, timely help from Sleary, the circus manager, helps Tom escape.
Mrs. Sparsit, too, is anxious to help Bounderby to find the robber of his bank. Interestingly, she brings in Mrs. Pegler and it comes to light that she is Bounderby’s mother to whom he orders not to meet. All of his boasts of being a self-made man come down crashing. Though he fires Mrs. Sparsit, Bounderby is left alone and dies with his philosophy later. Gradgrind, witnessing his daughter and son involving in different defaming events, abandons his philosophy and finally starts helping the destitute. Tom dies out of the country. Sissy marries and lives a happy life. Louisa never marries again and helps Sissy in her domestic chores.
Major Themes in Hard Times
- Human Nature: The novel exposes oddity human nature subject to change in different situations. Bounderby has built a house of cards around his self-styled self-made life, showing his true nature and even disowning his own mother. However, when it turns out that he is not what he pretends to be. It comes to light that he only wants to win public fame out of this antic. On the other hand, the philosophy of facts propagated by Thomas Gradgrind fails as he finds himself in hot waters that his daughter has left the loveless household of Bounderby and his son has died far away from the country after his escape. The abandonment of his philanthropy finally proves that human nature is most of the time generous, loving, and not factual and dry.
- Imagination and Facts: Charles Dickens also stresses the need for imagination and facts in life. Through Thomas Gradgrind’s character along with his family’s, Dickens highlights that everything is not a fact. Through the character of Sissy Jupe and Louisa how one loses her future while the other, who has been placed at the lower order in thinking about facts and fancy, become a successful wife in her life. Dicken shows the importance of imagination in life. Her successful life shows that imagination has as much importance in life as material things or facts. It, however, is also a fact that had Gradgrind not adopted her, she might have lost her future which means that facts also have significance in life.
- Femininity: Hard Times shows the theme of femininity through feminine compassions and sympathies. The novel also shows that though Louisa has lost her feminine quality, she still longs to help Sissy, while Mrs. Sparsit, despite living with Mr. Bounderby, does not lose her feminine touch. The same goes for Bounderby’s mother who always waits for her son, while Sissy Jupe shows this when she becomes a mother of children despite the stress upon her education about facts and nothing else.
- Industrialization: The novel sheds light on the theme of industrialization through the city of Coketown, the establishment of factories as well as the employment of human beings. Coketown shows the impacts of industrialization through its environment and the condition of the working class. Examples of environmental pollution and the situation of Stephen Blackpool are cases in point. Where the establishment of factories is concerned, Mr. Bounderby and the establishment of banks in Coketown sheds light on it and its impacts on the life of “hands,” the laborers who are at the receiving ends. Although they find work, they also find it hard to live in that polluted environment that has stunted their mental and physical growth.
- Utilitarianism: The theme of utilitarianism is presented in the novel through the characters of Mr. Thomas Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. Although both of them are practical, they suppose that human happiness depends on the acquisition of money and material resources and not human relations, compassion, and love. That is why Mr. Bounderby supports the education that places stress upon facts and practicality, abandoning his mother. Mr. Gradgrind, however, receives a rude shock when he sees his daughter becoming a victim of his pragmatism and his son dying away from the home town after he becomes a criminal in the bank robbery case.
- Education: The presentation of Thomas Gradgrind, his school, and the characters of M’Choakumchild and Kidderminster show Dicken’s attitude toward education prevalent during the newly industrialized Victorian period. Although the industrialists, like Mr. Bounderby, use to stress the acquisition of education, they also stress the practical utility of education and not upon the education of humanities and arts. That is why Louisa loses her femininity and Sissy Jupe becomes able to face the world with her family by her side.
- Power: The use of power has been shown through Mr. Bounderby and the escape of Tom. Mr. Bounderby manipulates the situation and people using his money in such a way that he marries Louisa, a girl of his daughter’s age and 30 years younger. Despite robbing a bank, Thomas Gradgrind exploits the situation to make Tom escape the law. It shows the use of financial as well as bureaucratic power.
- Love: The novel sheds light on the theme of love through the character of Sissy Jupe who is attached to her father so much that she does not think that he could leave her. The story even exposes false love that leads to the predatory behavior of Harthouse toward Louisa.
- Familial Setup: The novel stresses the issue of the family setup and family love through Sissy Jupe as she is left alone by her father. Although she becomes a good woman, the novel also shows through Louisa that balanced family life is important for the healthy growth of children.
- Wealth and Status: The character of Josiah Bounderby and Thomas Gradgrind show the use of wealth and status that keep the upper strata of the society in power. They also use this power to their selfish ends. The marriage of Louisa, escape of Tom, and above all Mr. Gradgrind’s good lifestyle show these thematic strands in the novel.
Major Characters in Hard Times
- Mr. Josiah Bounderby: Mr. Josiah Bounderby, known as Bounderbay throughout the story is the epitome of industrialism and new money. He sets up factories and also established banks to supplement his sources of income. With a very little background and boasts of having emerged from nowhere, Boundary is a pathological liar and hides his murky background and poverty during his childhood. His mental degradation has been demonstrated through his manipulative marriage with Louisa and the exploitation of Gradgrind. Later when his bank is robbed, it appears that he was lying all along about his lineage and mother, showing his hypocritical character.
- Mr. Thomas Gradgrind: As the founder of the educational system of facts, Mr. Thomas Grandgrand is a respectable British citizen of Coketown who also happens to be a parliamentarian. In his system, there is little room for imagination as he shows during his treatment of Sissy Jupe. He also brings up his own kids through his notions of facts. However, it dawns upon him later that Louisa has lost her femininity in the rigors of his facts and that his son has lost his moral sense, the reason that he has committed a robbery. It is another thing that his status and wealth save the neck of his son but not the social life of his daughter.
- Louisa Gradgrind: Loving daughter of Mr. Gradgrind, Louisa becomes the victim of his education system and also of her father’s manipulative behavior. First Gradgrind plays havoc with her future by denying her the right kind of education and secondly, he destroys her life by marrying her to Mr. Bounderby, the old industrialist. Although she suffers from an emotional breakdown and faces dissolved marriage, she finds it impossible to lead a balanced life again.
- Tom Gradgrind: Referred as “the whelp” in the novel, he is the only son of Mr. Gradgrind who gets a good job with Mr. Bounderby’s help, who has an eye on his sister, Louisa. However, it happens that Tom junior is morally deprived and he robs Bounderby’s bank. He gets involved with Mr. Stephone Blackpool by dishonestly exploiting his poverty and innocence. His father, however, succeeds in saving him at the end through the circus people whom he uses to smuggle him out of the country.
- Sissy Jupe: Popular in the Gradgrind circle as Sissy Jupe. Cecelia Jupe is the daughter a circus performer. She is abandoned by her father who sees her as a burden due to a lack of income. However, it is noteworthy that despite sending her away, he loves her dearly. She is taken in by the Gradgrind household as a family member and plays with Tom and Louisa. However, her imaginative ability stays alive and intact despite Mr. Gradgrind’s various onslaughts to uproot it and introduce his notion of facts. She marries at the end of the novel and has a successful domestic life with Louisa as her helping hand.
- Stephen Blackpool: He is the popular “hand,” whose daughter brings a change in the Gradgrind household. Although he marries a drunk woman from Coketown and loses his job due to his activities in the unions, Stephen is a passionate person who tries to do his best to save his daughter from the looming poverty yet with little success. He gets rather involved in bank robbery due to the shrewdness of Tom Gradgrind. However, flees the police, and when he tries to return and exonerate himself. Unfortunately, he dies when he falls into a pit.
- Mrs. Pegler: Mrs. Pelger is quite significant in the novel as she emerges as the mother of Mr. Bounderby. She reveals the truth later to put him to shame for his lies and worthless boasts. She becomes popular for her annual pilgrimage to Coketown to see her son, Bounderby.
- Bitzer: Bitzer plays his minor role by pointing his finger at Tom as the robber. He identifies him as he has been his playmate along with Sissy and Louisa and has been working in the bank as a clerk, too.
- Mrs. Gradgrind: The role of Mrs. Gradgrind is minor and yet important. She follows her husband in letter and spirit in the upbringing of her children believing that facts are important and creativity must be banned as trained by Mr. Gradgrind. She, however, leaves her children in the middle.
- James Harthouse: Harthouse’s role is significant in that he agrees with Gradgrind over his philosophy of implementing facts in his school. He tries to groom Louisa but fails. Besides him, Rachael, Mrs. Sleary, and Mrs. Sparsit are also important characters in the novel.
Writing Style of Hard Times
Hard Times shows Charles Dickens at his best in making characters stand for abstract ideas. The overall style of the novel seems dry, witty, and satirizing but the sentence structure is highly calculated and measured. Sometimes sentences are quite long but they come up to the standard of stylish writing, showing the requirement of the context. He mostly used formal diction in an ironic sense. Sometimes the conversation of different characters specifically Chokamchild, Mrs. Sparsit, Mrs. Pelger, and Mr. Bounderby show their down-to-earth behavior. However, it mostly stays formal except for Mr. Bounderby’s, who often boasts of his achievement from rags to riches.
Analysis of Literary Devices in Hard Times
- Anaphora: Hard Times shows the use of anaphora. For example,
i. No little Gradgrind had ever seen a face in the moon; it was up in the moon
before it could speak distinctly. No little Gradgrind had ever learnt the silly
jingle, Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are! No little
Gradgrind had ever known wonder on the subject. (Book First, Chapter-III)
ii. He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big,
loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man-made out of a coarse
material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him. A man with a great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such a strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open, and lift his eyebrows up. A man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start. A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility. (Book First, Chapter-IV)
iii. Because those two were one. Because they were never asunder. Because, up
to this time, he seemed to dote upon her,’ said Childers, taking a step or two to look into the empty trunk.. (Chapter-IV)
These sentences show the repetitious use of “No little Gradgrind” in the first, “a man” in the second, and “Because” in the third. These repetitions show the use of anaphora.
- Antagonist: Hard Times shows the character of Mr. Bounderby, who is a liar, brutish, horrid and lecherous to the point of selfishness. Therefore, he is the real antagonist of the novel.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel.
i. To be sure, the better and profounder part of her character was not within his scope of perception; for in natures, as in seas, depth answers unto depth; but he soon began to read the rest with a student’s eye. (Book-Second, Chapter-VII)
ii. He sat writing in the room with the deadly statistical clock, proving
something no doubt – probably, in the main, that the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist. (Book Second, Chapter-XII)
iii. …the sturdiest physical manhood will be morally stark death, and the plainest national prosperity figures can show, will be the Writing on the Wall, – she holding this course as part of no fantastic vow, or bond, or brotherhood, or sisterhood, or pledge, or covenant, or fancy dress, or fancy fair; but simply as a duty to be done, – did Louisa see these things of herself? (Chapter-IX, Final)
The first example alludes to Psalm, the second to the parable in the Gospel of Luke, and the third to a biblical phrase “Writing on the Wall.”
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between the industrialists and the “hands” on the wider scale and between Stephen Blackpool and Mr. Bounderby and the system at a minor level. There is also a conflict between Mr. Gradgrind and his children and between different sets of values.
- Consonance: The novel shows the use of consonance in its rhythmic pattern. It is rare that a prose uses such devices, allowing the reader to enjoy the descriptive parts. For example,
i. The same Signor Jupe was to ‘enliven the varied performances at frequent intervals with his chaste Shaksperean quips and retorts.’ (Book First, Chapter-III)
ii. No little Gradgrind had ever learnt the silly jingle, Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are! (Book First, Chapter-III)
These examples show the use of consonants in the shape of the sounds of /s/ and /t/.
- Characters: Hard Times presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young girl, Louisa, is a dynamic character as she goes through a transformation during her growth. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior, as they are static characters like Mr. Bounderby, Mr. Gradgrind, and even Sissy Jupes.
- Climax: The story reaches the climax when Louisa tries to run away with Harthouse but then returns to her father’s house.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing:
i. ‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.
Facts alone are wanted in life.. (Book First, Chapter -I)
ii. A sunny midsummer day. There was such a thing sometimes, even in
Coketown. (Book Second, Chapter -I)
These examples show the use of foreshadows in the novel as both predict what is going to happen next.
- Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs in the novel at various places. For example,
i. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. (Book First, Chapter-II)
ii. You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by
fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. (Book First, Chapter-II)
The first example shows exaggeration about the character of Mr. Gradgrind and the second about his application of facts.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to perceive things involving five senses. For example,
i. The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the
speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every
sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve. (Book First, Chapter-I)
ii. The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer,
perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in
at one of the bare windows of the intensely white-washed room, irradiated
Sissy. (Book-I, Chapter-II)
Both of these examples show the use of different images such as touch, sight, and movement.
- Metaphor: Hard Times shows good use of various metaphors. For example,
i. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. (Book First, Chapter-V)
ii. Seen from a distance in such weather, Coketown lay shrouded in a haze of its
own, which appeared impervious to the sun’s rays. (Book-Second, Chapter-1)
iii. So many people are employed in situations of trust; so many people, out of so many, will be dishonest. I have heard you talk, a hundred times, of its being a law. (Book-III, Chapter-VII)
These examples of metaphors show the comparison of smoke with serpents, Coketown, with some mystery, and people with law.
- Mood: The novel shows various moods including ironic and satirizing but it turns to tragedy and comedy at times and then again turns to satirize.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are industrialization, reason and imagination, childhood experiences and love.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated from a third-person point of view, which is the author.
- Protagonist: Stephen Blackpool and Sissy Jupe are both protagonists of the novel.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is the fictional town of Coketown in the northern part of England during industrialization.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
i. They had been lectured at, from their tenderest years; coursed, like little hares. (Book First, Chapter-III)
ii. …the Great Bear like a Professor Owen, and driven Charles’s Wain like a locomotive engine-driver. (Book First, Chapter-III)
iii. Louisa asked these questions with a strong, wild, wandering interest peculiar to her; an interest gone astray like a banished creature and hiding in solitary places. (Book First, Chapter-IX)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.