Hard Times By Charles Dickens

Aug 08, 2019   •  233 views

This novel 'Hard Times' written by Charles Dickens, is a story about two friends Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby and the way they bring up their family. It is also about fancy and facts. There is also a group of circus people who uplift the theory of fancy and on the other hand there is Bounderby's school of facts.


  • Mr. Bounderby

  • Mr. Gradgrind

  • Ms. Sparsit

  • Louisa Gradgrind

  • Tom Gradgrind

  • Sissy Jupe

  • Mr. Sleary

  • James Harthouse

  • Stephen Blackpool


This novel 'Hard Times' is the conflict between humanity and system.The titles of the chapters, 'Lower and lower' and 'Down' also emphasis the theft of the image, as does the culminating scene of book II, in which Louisa, having reached the bottom of the descent falls in an insensible heap at father's feet.

The first two chapters of the novel, where the ideas of children and industrial workers are merged in the figures of working-class children, lay the groundwork for the family-society metaphor.

We can also interpret that Mrs. Gradgrind is just a victim of the dominion of fact, her scattered wits and language also associate her with the world of fancy in the novel, her feebleness with language is a strength, her vagueness about names for example, in particular her inability to use Bounderby's name after he marries Louisa, is a comic resistance to the rage for permanence of naming. She feels that she never hears the last of anything because there is no end to language as difference. She represents the largest of a number of blind spots in the novel where the dispersing play of language as difference is activated.

Both Gradgrind and Bounderby discount the emotional reality of marriage. Bounderby maintains that Stephen's miserable marriage is a fact that he must continue to live with. Mr. Bounderby stands behind the divorce law that condemns Stephen to suffer perpetually for his wife's intemperance. The employer's dismissal of his workman's problem clearly represents Bounderby's failure and the failure of others like him, to recognize the human needs of the working class. Bounderby and the laws he upholds keep Stephen in his unhappy marriage. Gradgrind refuses to recognise his daughter's emotional needs, just as Bounderby has refused to recognise Stephen's.

When Stephen andLouisa meet, they feel an immediate sympathy for one another. The metaphor of Family-society breaks down because Louisa and Tom grow up and have their own roles to play in the larger society, roles that are, moreover opposed to Stephen's well-being.

The Gradgrind family does not represent potential relations of social harmony, but actual relations of domination, denial and oppression. Gradgrind's embody none of the positive values normally associated with the family;Coketown is remarkably homogeneous publicly and privately. Stephen is caught in a destructive relationship, the continuance of which is enforced by legal coils, laws that only hinder and never help him. All of Bounderby's relationships are seen to be exploitative as well he ends his connections with his mother, Mrs. Sparsit, Louisa and Stephen only when he can no longer profit from them.

In this novel, where almost all literal connections are destructive, the only imaginable regeneration establishes a new kind of distance between Gradgrind family and industrial society, the distance not of metaphoric difference but of actual antagonism. Through Louisa's crises and through Sissy Jupe's subtle influence, Gradgrind comes to realise his love for his children and his responsibility to guide and protect them. For more information.

Critical Essay- Society and Family by Catherine Gallagher

Catherine Gallagher mentions in her essay that 'Hard Times' and 'North and South' is the attempt to describe industrial society and present solutions to the problems of class antagonisms. It proposes the isolation of families from the larger society. By advocating the integration of public and private life and then dissociating the two, the novela reproduce the paradox of the ideologies that inform them.

Gradgrind sacrifices his old principles of reason and self-interest to his new belief in family loyalty. At the very moment Dickens restores the usual optimistic direction of the paternalistic metaphor –the ideal family as a model for society- the parallel between the Gradgrind children and the working class collapses. For the Gradgrinds, become a model family only by symbolically betraying the working class and breaking society's laws although young Tom is primarily responsible for Stephen's death, the Gradgrind family rallies to his defence. Later Mr. Gradgrinddoes clear Stephen's name of Tom's crime, but his first effort is to save his own son from justice.

By ending the novel with a depiction of the family as a protective dominion, Dickens is not turning away from his social ideology to meet some formal demand, he is rather drawing out to an absurd extreme the ideology's own paradoxical logic.

Critical Essay- Deconstructing Dickens by Steven Connor

Steven Connor mentions that deconstructive criticism sets out to try to show the particular ways in which the conflict between presence of difference is established in texts, and in which the awareness of that conflict is then repressed.

From the start of the novel, it seems to present its rigid binary opposition between system and fact, exemplified in Gradgrind's school and Bounderby's mill and life and fancy, exemplified in Sleary's circus. It is clear from the beginning that Gradgrindery is to be characterised by an excess of metaphor, shown in the desire for absolute interchangeability between signifiers and signifieds.

The definition of a horse that Bitzer offers relies upon the implicit claim that language can account absolutely for the things it names, so that having heard the definition, Sissy is expected immediately to 'know what a horse is'.

The novel "Hard Times" relies upon a notion of presence, upon its contract with its readers that it is speaking of real people and events, that its signifiers substitute for real signifieds in order to give authority to its recommendation of the metonymic openness of fancy.

The word 'stutterings' is obviously in one sense mere noise, whose only meaning consists in representing Sissy's difficulty in pronouncing the word "statistics". This kind of inefficiency of language is not without its own significance in Hard Times.



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