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Hard Times, main themes and plot of the novel

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Hard Times is a long novel set in the north of England, wrote by Charles Dickens. The fictitious name of the novel is Coke Town, Coke is a type of coal which was mined in the main setting, the industrial town. Hard Times is a Bildungsroman, a novel of formation.

Ther are lots of plots sewed togheter in this novel, a main plot cohabiting with many subplots. It was published in 1894, in three books:

  • The sow
  • The reaping
  • The garnering

Conflict between emotions and facts as the conflict between workers and owners. #

Gradgrind, the portmanteau of “to grind”, which means turning a material into a fine powder and also working hard in order to get success and “grade”, which means. Grind refers also to the intention of Mr. Gradgrind, who wants to grind the minds of their students with facts, not with fancy.

Gradgrind is the owner of a school where the utilitarianism is applied into education. Jeremy Bentham, an Englishman, is one of the main philosophers adhering to utilitarianism. Gradgrind applies the utilitarian philosophy, severely suppressing every form of imagination and creativity is abolished, this philosophy he applies it at also home to Thomas and Luisa, his children. Luisa marries Joshua Bounderby, while being not in love with him, thirty years older than her, in order to get her brother Tom a job in the factory, as a clark. Sissy Jupe develops a strong affection for her strong adopted family.

James Hearthouse, a handsome ambitious politician tries to seduce Luisa using facts, who asks Gradgrind for help, collapsing once he comes back to the house. Gradgrind realizes he can’t provide help only using facts.

Mr. Bounderby is the factory owner and banker, Gradgrind and Bounderby are the rich part of the society, thus they profit from applied utilitarianism, Bounderby is the businessman who exploits the workers. They are the respectable victorian middle class men, they are interested only in making money and pretending to be respectable.

Sissy Jupe as the impeersonment of change, who was born in a circus. #

Sissy Jupe and Steven Blackpool are the counterpart to Bounderby and Gradgrind. Sissy Jupe was abandoned as a child and consequently adopted by Mr. Gradgrind, while Blackpool has a troubled life with an alcoholic wife, he doesn’t join the trade union and he gets fired. They represent the fancy part of the novel, they are part of the poor classes, Sissy is the daughter of a circus player, while Blackpool is a worker. Sissy has a constant affective and kind behaviour, which changes Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy from utilitarian, believing in educating guys to be the most productive - after all the emotional trouble in his family - to a system which puts on top emotions, life.

Steven Blackball is a worker who lives in terrible conditions, who is forced to leave the factory and during the story he is accused of robbing Mr. Bumblebee’s Bank, but he is innocent and Tom robbed the bank. Tom accuses another man who commits suicide after not taking part in a strike. When Tom is indicted he escapes the town by applying to the moving circus, he tries to go back to Coke Town but he dies.

Meaning of names #

The name Luisa comes from the German “Ludwig”, famous from the fight, Luisa is a warrior who is fighting between her father’s facts and her own imagination.

Mr. M’Choackumchild means “Mr choke a child”, a figurative image for the way of teaching used in the schools, to suffocate the students’ creativity. The public schools were private and open to everyone who paid the tuition fees. Ragged schools had classrooms with tiny windows, who hosted often 60 to 70 students per teacher per class.

Sissy is a nickname for Cecilia, a nickname for “Sister”, Cecilia becomes an adoptive sister for Luisa and Thomas.

Dickens’s idea of education #

Dickens wanted children to be creative, he believed that education was an important tool to eradicate poverty, he believed that education could rescue children from poverty, we have lots of examples from our days, such as Malala’s speech at the UN, who believed a book to be important. Mary Shelley’s mother believed that education was important for women’s empowerment. If a person can understand what he reads, he has his own critical thinking, important in order to not be manipulated, same as 1984. In Oliver Twist he attacks the workhouse, where children were divided by fathers who were divided by mothers, they could meet at meals but they couldn’t talk. Dickens wants to tell the reader the dangers of industrialisation, which was transofrming human beings into machines, this metamorphosis is evident in the description of Coke Town. Oliver tells us also that life without feelings and emotions is unbearable. Education is important for children and workers, Blackpool is not a literate man, if the workers have had a full education maybe they would’ve improved their condition. Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni believed also in this sentence, and tried to induce a patriotic feeling inside Italy by founding schools and educating the lower classes.