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Hard Times Essay Research Paper Times That

Hard Times Essay, Research Paper

Times That Truly Were Hard

When we think of hard times in today’s world, our thoughts might consist of the number of days before we get paid, an argument with our spouse, or simply that our car is not operating so great these days. Most people today can not begin to imagine what hard times were like during the Industrial Revolution. In nineteenth century England, hard times to the factory workers may have consisted of watching one’s nine-year-old child tied to a machine in the mill for fourteen hours a day. It is no wonder why the writers of this period protested society through the voices of their writings. One of the greatest of these writers was Charles Dickens, who made his voice of protest through a literary masterpiece known as Hard Times. There are many aspects of Hard Times, and Dickens manages to capture what life was like for all of the social classes of his day through each individual character with his protests against the horrible ways in which people were treating one another in the times that truly were hard.

Dickens put a great deal of thought and research into all of his works, just as he did in Hard Times. As one writer states, “He visited Preston to get material for the industrial and trade-union aspects of the novel; a few weeks latter he began to collect circus slang” (Collins 29). He latter obtained the Educational Board’s series of questions for the examination of teachers in schools. On April 1, 1854, Hard Times appeared in a weekly journal, Household Words, which Dickens edited.

Some people believe that Dickens “was determined to create a means where he could communicate his ideas on social reform so in 1850 he began editing Household Words” (Ford 16). One author states that “by 1851 the twenty-four page Household Words was selling 40,000 copies a week” (Gray 2). The weekly journal included articles on politics, science and history. To increase the number of people willing to buy Household Words, it also contained short stories and humorous pieces. Dickens also used the journal to serialize novels that were concerned with social issues such as Hard Times.

The scene is a factory driven English town known as Coketown. The novel begins in a classroom where we meet Mr. Gradgrind, a wealthy parliament member, to whom the school belongs. It is believed that “Dickens’s first purpose was to establish the dominion of Fact and of its high priest, Mr. Gradgrind…. He is to be the representative of a theory. It is therefore appropriate that he should first appear in his own school impressing his theories upon the rising generation, who will show the effect of his teaching as the story develops” (Tillotson 43). Mr. Gradgrind’s beliefs on education are one and the same as his beliefs on life. Everything must be of fact. In his view, there is no room for fantasies or feelings. As one author so accurately puts it, “The smoke drifts into the classrooms at Gradgrind Day School and fogs the imagination of its students” (Sanders 3). The children are starving for anything other than facts. We soon see that they will go to great lengths to get a dab of fantasy in their lives.

One author states that, “the young Gradgrinds have been brought up on Facts, but when we first meet them they are contriving to satisfy their starving Fantasy by peeping through a hole in a circus tent” (Tillotson 45). Mr. Gradgrind discovers his children peeping though the hole to get a look at the circus people, and is horrified at his discovery. He cannot grasp their reasons of looking for more. He must feel that they have it all, an education filled with facts. He does not know that with a mind of facts alone, one may as well be a machine. In this part of the novel we see that Dickens is not only protesting the education system of the time, but also striving for individualism. A person is not a class or a machine, but rather an individual with thoughts and feelings belonging to no one else but that person.

We are soon introduced to a group of individuals on the bottom of the social classes. This group of people knows only fantasy, and knows nothing about facts. They are the circus people, and their main purpose is to bring joy into other peoples lives. When a young circus girl’s father abandons her, Mr. Gradgrind takes her in so that she can be properly educated. Sissy Jupe is a warm and loving individual who can not accept a life of facts alone. She has a huge impact in the lives of the Gradgrinds. One author agrees by saying that Mr. Gradgrind “is redeemable, and the course of the novel will show that he will be redeemed by Sissy. He fails to educate her head, but she succeeds in educating his heart” (Tillotson 46). Dickens protests the treatments of the circus people. Much can be learned from people such as them. What he was trying to say is to put love and happiness first, and everything else will fall into place. Sissy grows up to have a family and a happy life, where as Louisa ends up in a loveless and unhappy marriage because she does not know how to dream of anything else.

Josiah Bounderby is in the same middle class as the Gradgrinds however, we soon discover that he is different than they turn out to be. Mr. Bounderby is a wealthy factory owner, and a supposed “self made man.” He goes on and on of how he has risen himself from the gutters to his present position. As he proclaims in the novel, “My mother left me to my grandmother… and, according to the best of my remembrance, my grandmother was the wickedest and worst old woman that ever lived. If I got a pair of shoes by chance, she would take ‘em off and sell ‘em for drink” (Dickens 25). He soon expands on the story of his rise to wealth by marring the daughter of a wealthy, respectable man. It makes no difference to him that Louisa Gradgrind does not love him or that she is miserable in their marriage. It is though she has taken the role of her mother, Mrs. Gradgrind, who seems as if she has no feelings inside of her. She is empty, and now Louisa must take on the same role as the zombie like woman. It seems that Mr. Bounderby has everything that he has always wanted, the daughter of a respectable man as his wife, wealth, and a story of how he had accomplished it all. This all changes for him when he is learned to be a fraud by the unwelcome visit of his mother, who in fact raised, cared for, educated, and loved him while he was growing up. His stories of a “self made man” were all lies. Louisa leaves him, and returns to her father. Although every thing around him changes, he can not. He is later found dead on the streets of Coketown, seemingly due to the large blow to his ego. Dickens’s protests symbolized by Mr. Bounderby are very simple. He is against the selfish, egotistical men of his day. Mr. Bounderby’s poor treatment of not only his peers, but also his workers eventually catches up to him. His ego killed him.

Dickens portrays the working class though a couple of workers in Mr. Bounderby’s factory. Stephen Blackpool is an honest, hard working man who is hopelessly in love with Rachael, a coworker in the factory. Stephen is married to another woman who has left him for a life of drinking. When Stephen goes to Mr. Bounderby in hopes that he will help Stephen obtain a divorce, Mr. Bounderby disregards Stephen’s request, for to him Stephen is not a person, but rather a member of the group of “Hands” in his factory. Stephen latter stands up for the workers, and is fired. He leaves Coketown in search of work. Here we see Dickens standing up for the working class. Stephen was unable to obtain a divorce due to the fact that divorces were very costly at the time therefore, only the wealthy could participate in this right. Dickens obviously did not agree with this. We also see Dickens protesting the treatment of the workers in the factories. He created individual characters, not “Hands” or a “group.” They have lives and feelings. He also shows how they were persecuted when they stood up for themselves through Stephen. Dickens must have wanted better treatment of these people.

One of Dickens’s minor characters is a young boy by the name of Bitzer. Dickens portrays him as colorless and mean, for he lives by self-interests. He is a model student in the school of facts, yet he is lacking the emotions of a young boy. This is what Tom Gradgrind must have been like at his age. It is no wonder that Tom grows up to rebel, and he later becomes a thief. This is Dickens’ obvious protest of the facts systems once more. Some agree by saying, “Dickens seems to have harbored great distrust and dislike of all makers of statistics” (Monod 81). He shows us what is to become of the children educated only by facts and statistics.

Perhaps Dickens gave some hope to the lower classes of his time with his novel Hard Times. These writings may have even caused them to stand up for themselves. This group of books may have even shown the upper classes that the people “beneath” them were individuals the same as them. But most importantly, he showed the people what was to happen if they stopped fantasizing.

Collins, Philip. “Good Intentions and Bad Results.” Twentieth Century

Interpretations of Hard Times. Ed. Gray, Paul. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,

Inc., 1969. 29-37.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1997.

Ford, George. Charles Dickens: Criticism. 12 August 2000.


Gray, Paul. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hard Times. New Jersey:

Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969.

Monod, Syvere. “Dickens as Social Novelist.” Twentieth Century

Interpretations of Hard Times. Ed. Gray, Paul. New Jersey:

Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969. 78-85.

Sanders, Barry. “Fire in the Hole: Hard Times for These Times, Too.” 22 Sept.

2000. *http://gateway.ovid.com/rel410/server1/ovidweb.cgi/*.

Tillotson, Kathleen. “Hard Times, The Problems of a Weekly Serial.” Twentieth

Century Interpretations of Hard Times. Ed. Gray, Paul. New Jersey: Prentice-

Hall, Inc., 1969. 45-6.