Hard Times Summary by Charles Dickens

Hard Times Summary by Charles Dickens


An Introductory Note:[Hard Times Summary ]

– Hard Times – For These Times (commonly known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, first published in 1854. The book surveys English society and satirizes the social and economic conditions of the era. Hard Times is unusual in several ways. It is by far the shortest of Dickens’ novels, barely a quarter of the length of those written immediately before and after it. Also, unlike all but one of his other novels, this novel has neither a preface nor illustrations. Moreover, it is his only novel not to have scenes set in London. Instead, the story is set in the fictitious Victorian industrial Coketown, a generic Northern English mill-town, in some ways similar to Manchester, though smaller. Coketown may be partially based on 19th-century Preston.


The novel begins with Mr. Thomas Gradgrind sternly lecturing a room full of school children on the importance of facts. He believes that facts, not imagination or emotion, are the key to a good education, and he educates all the children of the school and his own children, Louisa and Tom, according to this philosophy. When one of his worst students, Sissy Jupe, is abandoned by her father (a circus performer), Mr. Gradgrind takes in Sissy to educate her along with his children according to his sacred system of facts. Since their hearts and imaginations have been utterly neglected, Louisa and Tom grow into deformed human beings-inwardly, not outwardly. They know neither how to love nor how to be happy, and the sense that there is something very wrong with the way they are living their lives. At Mr. Gradgrind’s request, Louisa dutifully marries his older friend, Mr. Josiah Bounderby, who is a blustering manufacturer in Coketown. She agrees to marry Bounderby not because she loves him, but because she thinks it will help her brother Tom, who is apprenticed to Mr. Bounderby. Tom is the only person she cares for and, knowing this, Tom wheedles her into marriage. Now both Louisa and Tom live with Mr. Bounderby, and Sissy stays back with Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind and Jane, the youngest Gradgrind. Mr. Bounderby’s factory workers also called “Hands,” do not live happy lives under his rule. One factory worker by the name of Stephen Blackpool is daily worn out by his work at the factory, but what plagues him more is his unhappy marriage, for his wife has become a hideous drunk. He wishes to free himself from her and marry Rachael, a sweet, gentlewoman in the village, but he cannot because of the ties of marriage. After he asks Bounderby for help on the matter, Mr. Bounderby informs him that he might be able to get out of the marriage if he had enough money to pay for a lawyer, but as he doesn’t the cause is hopeless. As The resignedly leaves Mr. Bounderby’s home, he runs into an old woman, who for some reason is very interested to hear any news about Mr. Bounderby and his successes. Tom is now a dissolute, lazy young man, very much in debt and inclined to a sulky attitude in front of everyone. His, Louisa’s, and Mr. Bounderby’s lives are somewhat enlivened by the arrival of a Mr. James Harthouse from London. Mr. Harthouse is a wealthy, pleasing young gentleman who is bored out of his mind and has come to work for Mr. Bounderby in the hope of finding something entertaining. He quickly becomes very interested in Louisa, for he sees that a strong fire burns under the cold, impassive mask of a face she wears. Noticing that she softens and shows emotion only towards Tom, Harthouse sets about seducing her by pretending to be Tom’s good friend. Mrs. Sparsit, an old widow who used to live with Mr. Bounderby before he married Louisa and was then unceremoniously kicked out, watches the progression of his seduction of Louisa with glee. Mr. Bounderby’s factory workers, restless with their bad lot and stirred on by the fiery words of a sleazy union orator named Slackbridge, decide to form a union. Stephen, present at the rowdy meeting at which they come to this decision, tells them that he cannot join because of a promise he has made to someone. The entire town then decides to shun him as a result of his decision. Bounderby brings Stephen in for questioning but fires him when he won’t reveal anything about the union. Louisa and Tom visit Stephen to give him some money before he leaves town in search of a new job, and before they leave, Tom secretly tells Stephen to hang around the bank the few nights before he leaves town…there might be something good in it for Stephen. Stephen does so, but nothing happens. Soon after that, the bank is robbed, and as a result of his suspicious activity, Stephen is the main suspect. By a coincidence of events, Louisa is left alone at home one night while her husband is out of town, and Harthouse finds her, passionately declares his love for her, and begs her to elope with him. Louisa tells him that she will meet him somewhere later that night. Mrs. Sparsit, hiding in the vegetation near to where those two are standing, hears all this with a vengeful delight and follows Louisa when she leaves the house, but then loses her track. She hastily runs to tell Mr. Bounderby that his wife has all but eloped with Mr. Harthouse. Louisa, in the meantime, has actually gone to her father’s house and is at her wits’ end. She confronts her father and tells him that the unhappiness of her entire life which has brought her to this point is all due to his education of facts, which quashed all feelings of the heart which are so essential to human existence. Dumbstruck and penitent, her father tries to catch her as she falls in a faint on the floor. Thanks to Sissy’s care and actions (Sissy persuades Mr. Harthouse to leave Coketown forever), Louisa gradually begins to recover at her father’s house. Bounderby, who learned of the almost-elopement through Mrs. Sparsit, tells Mr. Gradgrind that if Louisa stays at her old home, he and she shall cease to live together as man and wife—and so they separate. Meanwhile, tragedy has befallen Stephen. On his way back to Coketown to clear his name, he falls into Old Hell Shaft, a huge pit in the ground. Sissy and Rachael find him there, and the men of the surrounding village managed to rescue him, but he dies shortly after being retrieved from the pit, holding Rachael’s hand and peacefully gazing at the stars. Before he dies, he asks Mr. Gradgrind to clear his good name, because it was Tom, who committed the robbery. Sissy saves the day again: she tells Tom to hide with her father’s old circus company and from there Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa plan for him to slip out of the country. One of Mr. Gradgrind’s old pupils, Bitzer, who has been brainwashed by his education of facts, almost prevents Tom’s escape, but thanks to the cunning of the circus master, Tom manages to evade Bitzer’s clutches and escapes to another country. Back in Coketown, Mrs. Sparsit has accidentally revealed Mr. Bounderby to be a fraud. Everyone had thought Mr. Bounderby to be a self-made man, deserted by cruel parents at a young age… until Mrs. Sparsit dragged his very respectable and kind mother to the public eye, thinking her to be an aid to Stephen Blackpool in the Bank robbery. Mr. Bounderby, now shunned as a liar, “exiles” Mrs. Sparsit from his presence and she is forced to spend the rest of her days with an old, sick, miserly relation. Mr. Gradgrind, having learned his lesson the hard way, devotes the rest of his life to faith, hope, and charity instead of facts. Louisa does not remarry but finds some happiness in helping Sissy care for her own children. Tom dies far from home and repents of his hardness towards his family on his deathbed.

An Analytical Summary:


1. Book I: ‘Sowing : Chapters 1 to 4;

On one of Coketown’s rare sunny days, Mrs. Sparsit sits in her apartment in the bank and talks to Bitzer, a former pupil at Gradgrind’s school, and now a porter at the bank. The two are discussing the young Tom Gradgrind, who, although he still works at the bank, has become a “dissipated, extravagant idler.” A very well-dressed young gentleman interrupts their conversation by knocking at the door. The stranger explains that he has come to Coketown to enter politics as a disciple of Gradgrind. His suave manner and genteel appearance please Mrs. Sparsit, and she attempts to flatter him. The young man inquires about Louisa Bounderby, of whom he has heard intimidating reports: he imagines that she must be middle-aged, quick-witted, and formidable. When Mrs. Sparsit assures him that Mrs. Bounderby is simply a lovely young woman, he seems very relieved and We learn that the strange visitor’s name is James Harthouse and that he is a disingenuous, wealthy young man who is only interested in Gradgrind’s politics because he hopes they will alleviate his pervasive boredom. He does not really share Gradgrind’s philosophy of fact, but he is prepared to pretend that he does in order to pass the time. Harthouse goes to dinner at Bounderby’s, where he is very interested.

After dinner, Harthouse takes the  caddish young Tom—who is highly impressed with his new acquaintance’s amoral worldliness, back to his apartment. Harthouse plies Tom with wine and tobacco and then coaxes the story of Louisa’s marriage out of him. The drunke Tom claims that Louisa only married Bounderby for Tom’s sake so that she could Bounderby’s money to help her brother with his own financial difficulties. Once Harthouse learns that Louisa does not love her husband, he privately resolves to seduce her.

Elsewhere in Coketown, the factory Hands, who have decided to unionize in to improve their wretched conditions, hold a meeting. An inflammatory orator named Slackbridge gives an impassioned speech about the necessity of unionizing and of showing their sense of fellowship. The only Hand who remains unconvinced is Stephen Blackpool . Stephen says he does not believe that the union will do any good because it will only aggravate the already tense relationship between employers and workers. After he voices this opinion, he is cast out of the meeting. The other Hands-his longtime friends and companions-agree to shun him as a sign of their solidarity. Stephen asks them only to allow him to continue working. He endures four days of ostracism before Bitzer summons him to Bounderby’s house.


Il. Chapters 5 to 8 ;

Bounderby attempts to cajole Stephen into telling him what went on at the meeting, but Stephen refuses to be used as a spy. He says that Slackbridge is no more to blame for the desire of the workers to unionize than a clock is to blame for the passing of time, but he repeats his belief that the union will do no good. When he refuses to spy on the other Hands, Bounderby angrily dismisses him from the factory. Because his fellow Hands have ostracized him, Stephen will have to leave Coketown in search of work.

Outside Bounderby’s, Stephen encounters before, who introduces herself as Mrs. Pegler. Stephen takes the pair back to his room for tea, telling Rachael the news of his dismissal. In spite of Stephen’s misfortune, they pass an enjoyable evening and are surprised by the appearance of Louisa and Tom at Stephen’s door. Louisa was impressed with Stephen’s refusal to help her husband break up the union, and she offers him money to help him on his way. Deeply touched, Stephen agrees to accept only two pounds, which he promises to pay back. Tom summons Stephen outside and makes him another offer of help. Tom tells Stephen to wait outside the bank late at night for the next few nights, and if all goes well, someone will appear with assistance. Stephen spends the next few days preparing to leave Coketown, and he waits outside the bank each evening, following Tom’s instructions. He notices several people observing his loitering, including Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer, but no one comes to offer him help. Finally, one morning, Stephen walks by Rachael’s house one last time, then sets out down the road out of Coketown, the trees arching over him, his own heart aching for the loving heart that he is leaving behind. 

As James Harthouse begins to enjoy some political success, he also begins seduction of Louisa. He and Louisa spend a lot of time together at Bounderby’s country estate near Coketown, and through their private conversations, he learns how to manipulate the emotions that Louisa herself does not know she has. Realizing that her brother is the only person for whom she truly cares, Harthouse uses his influence over Tom to make him more kindly to Louisa-and he makes sure she knows who is responsible.

One morning, Bounderby charges in upon Harthouse and Louisa, hank has been robbed of roughly 150 pounds. The only suspect is Stephen Blackpool, who seen loitering outside the bank late at night, shortly before fleeing from Coketown.

Knowing that her brother is deeply in debt, Louisa suspects Tom of stealing the money. She confronts him about it one night, and he protests his innocence. However, as soon as she leaves his room, he buries his face in his pillow and begins to sob guiltily.

III. Chapters 9 to 12 :

Mrs. Sparsit continues to lurk around the Bounderby estate, flattering Bounderby’s pride and worming her way into his good graces. She also observes shrewdly that Louisa spends a great deal of time with James Harthouse. It is not long, however, before this new pattern is interrupted: Louisa receives a letter from Stone Lodge, telling her that her mother is dying. Louisa rushes to her mother’s side and sees that her younger sister, Jane, who is being raised primarily by Sissy, seems happier and more fulfilled than Louisa felt as a child. Before her death, Mrs. Gradgrind calls Louisa to her, explaining that she feels like she has missed or forgotten something and that she wants to write a letter to Mr. Gradgrind asking him to find out what it is. After a whining farewell, Mrs. Gradgrind dies.

Even after Mrs. Sparsit leaves the Bounderbys, she continues to visit very frequently, Thinking about Louisa’s burgeoning relationship with Mr. Harthouse, Mrs. Sparsit begins to imagine that Louisa is on a giant staircase leading into a black abyss. She pictures Louisa running downward and downward, and she takes great pleasure in imagining what will happen when she reaches the bottom and falls into this abyss.

One day, Mrs. Sparsit discovers that Tom has been sent to the train station in Coketown to wait for Harthouse and Louisa is at the country estate, all alone. Suspecting a ruse and ignoring a driving rain, Mrs. Sparsit hurries to the country, where she heads into the forest and discovers Louisa and Harthouse in an intimate conversation. Harthouse professes his love for Louisa and states his desire to become her lover. Louisa agrees to meet him in town later that night but urges him to leave immediately. He does so, and Louisa at 2 de 8 once sets out for Coketown. Scrambling to follow her, Mrs. Sparsit gleefully imagines Louisa tumbling off the precipice at the bottom of her imaginary staircase. However, she loses track of Louisa before Louisa reaches her ultimate destination.

Contrary to Mrs. Sparsit’s expectations, Louisa does not go to meet James Harthouse but instead goes to Stone Lodge, where she rushes into her father’s study, drenched to the bone and extremely upset. She confesses to her father that she bitterly regrets her childhood and says that the way he brought her up exclusively on facts, without ever letting her feel or imagine anything, has ruined her. She claims that she is married to a man she despises and that she may be in love with Harthouse. Consequently, she is thoroughly miserable and does not know how to rectify the situation. Gradgrind is shocked and consumed with sudden self-reproach. Sobbing, Louisa collapses to the floor.

IV. Chapters 13 to 16 :

When Stephen returns home, Rachael is there, sitting next to the bed and taking care of his wife. The house is in order again, and the wife is asleep. Rachael says the landlady sent for her earlier in the day because Stephen’s wife needs “looking to.” Rachael found Stephen’s wife wounded and bruised, and Stephen observes the wounds on his wife’s neck. Rachael says Stephen’s heart is “far too merciful to let her die or even so much as suffer, for want of aid.” Rachael offers to stay until three in the morning when it will be sure his wife will sleep through the night. She tells Stephen the doctor assured her his wife will “come to her mind tomorrow.” Stephen enjoys Rachael’s presence and offers to walk her home when the bells chime three. He expresses gratitude for her help and kindness, for making him feel calm and at ease, and he hopes someday—even in the next life-they will be able to walk together.

Several years pass, and Mr. Gradgrind tells Sissy it is best for her to leave school. He has been disappointed by her progress, even though he knows she has tried hard to leam. When she apologizes for her inadequacies, he tells her she is “an affectionate, earnest, good young woman and-and we must make that do.” He acknowledges her service to his family and hopes she can continue to be happy in that role. He is deeply fond of Sissy, but he does not quite know how to understand her since she does not fit into any easy category for him. Later Mr. Gradgrind, now a member of Parliament, tells Louisa he needs to speak to her in the morning about an important matter. Tom tells Louisa their father is spending the evening with Mr. Bounderby and hints he knows what their father wants to talk about. Tom tells Louisa he has missed her since moving to Mr. Bounderby’s house as an apprentice, but he believes they may be together more in the future. He leaves her to contemplate what the future might entail.

When Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa speak together after breakfast, he tells her Mr. Bounderby wants to marry her. He explains that the age difference between them is not such a problem for people as practical as they are and explains the case in favor of the marriage. He is taken aback when Louisa asks if she is expected to love Mr. Bounderby, thinking she is above such sentimentality. He tells Louisa to make a decision based on the logic and facts of the situation and an assessment of the possible outcomes of accepting or rejecting the offer. Louisa considers the course of her life and decides to accept his proposal.

Mr. Bounderby is nervous about breaking the news of his engagement to Mrs. Sparsit because his marriage means he will no longer require her services as a housekeeper. Expecting tears, anger, or some other emotional outburst, he prepares accordingly by purchasing smelling salts. However, she surprises and irritates him by responding to the news with something more akin to condescension and pity. He offers her a position at the bank that will preserve her salary and provide her with suitable accommodation and domestic help. Mrs. Sparsit accepts the new arrangement. The courtship between Mr. Bounderby and Louisa Gradgrind lasts for eight weeks, and then the wedding takes place. At the wedding breakfast, Mr. Bounderby gives a speech congratulating himself on finding such a good wife and congratulating Louisa on finding such a good husband. The couple honeymoon in Lyon, France, where Mr. Bounderby can see how factories run there. Tom thanks Louisa for being a good sister and in a sense a good sport by marrying Mr. Bounderby. :

Book II: ‘Reaping” : Chapters 1 to 4


V. Book II continues for about a year after the Bounderby marriage. different and the life of the poor is as hard as it was before. Nonetheless, Mr. Bounderby is convinced that the poor are after a “gold spoon and turtle soup” and luxury living. It is summer and the town is especially hot. Mrs. Sparsit sits upstairs in the Bank where she has been relocated and this is where she holds court with Bitzer, Bounderby’s trusty assistant. Bitzer informs Mrs. Sparsit of the common laborers and their lack of values and their inability to save money and improve upon their condition. They both agree that the morals of the poor are wanting. The relationship between Bitzer and Mrs. Sparsit is very relationship between a spy and his employer. Their gossipy conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a stranger at the door. Mrs. Sparsit consents to see him mainly because she is curious as to who this is. The stranger is a very charming and elegantly dressed gentleman and he shares Mrs. Sparsit’s class sympathies. After trading their casual observations on life, the two settle down to conversation and discuss the business at hand. The stranger is to see Mr. Bounderbyhe has a letter of introduction that has come from Mr. Gradgrind. The stranger became acquainted with Mr. Gradgrind in London but this is his first time in Coketown and he is somewhat disgusted with the town. He is however, very eager to eat Louisa and he is astonished to learn that Mr. Bounderby has married her as he is a good three decades older than she is. Mrs. Sparsit assures the stranger that Louisa is not at all the hardened and unattractive academic that he has in mind. Later in the night, Mrs. Sparsit is thinking to herself and she exclaims: “O, you Fool!” but it is unclear precisely whom she means.

Mr. Gradgrind is hiring the stranger, Mr. James Harthouse, as an instructor in his school. He will be one of many who are trained in logic and statistics and eager to help relieve children of their imaginations. James Harthouse is the younger brother of a member of Parliament and as he has become an adult, he has failed to find a vocation or even a steady hobby to fill his hours. After trying several other things, Harthouse decided that he might as well give statistics a try and so he had himself coached and instructed in various philosophies. He was a success in London and his older brother easily passed him off to Mr. Gradgrind as a suitable educator. Gradgrind sent James (nicknamed “Jem”) down from London to Coketown to get to meet the important men in townMr. Bounderby chief among them. By the time Bounderby arrives at Harthouse’s hotel room, the young man is almost about to quit his new job and “go in” for another. Bounderby is very different from the very suave and collected younger man. He tells James the stories of his young years on the street and the myth of his self-improvement. He asserts that he is not, unlike Harthouse, a gentleman and it makes little sense for Harthouse to expect Bounderby to have any manners. Harthouse pretends to be incredibly amused and interested in Bounderby’s stories but he actually finds the man incredibly dreadful and boring. At Bounderby’s mansion, Harthouse meets Louisa and he finds her very attractive but very hard to understand. She is extremely guarded and reserved and he is unsure that his ideas and his rhetorical display are impressing her the way that they have impressed everyone else. In his observations, Harthouse notices that Louisa’s ungrateful younger brother, Tom, is the only person that can make her happy. She smiles when she sees him. At the end of the chapter, it is Tom who accompanies Harthouse to his hotel room. Tom Gradgrind has become quite wayward despite the rigors of his education and he is incredibly hypocritical and disrespectful. He makes no effort to hide his disdain for Mr. Bounderby even as he fascinated by Mr. Harthouse’s flashy clothes and he befriends him for this largely superficial reason. Tom very quickly becomes a pawn of Mr. Harthouse. After a little alcohol and some tobacco, Tom is loose-lipped and uninhibited in his criticism of Mr. Bounderby. At one point, Tom goes as far as to say that he is the only person that Louisa cares about and that it is only for his well-being that she agreed to marry Mr. Bounderby. Without realizing it, Tom is laying the seeds for a potential affair between Harthouse and his sister. As Harthouse becomes more enrapt with Louisa, Tom offers more and more secrets until he finally falls into a stupor. In his drunken fog, Tom suffers Harthouse’s gruff rousing to get up and go home. A waiter helps him through the street and he eventually stumbles in the direction of his home, dissipated and wholly unaware of what he has done.

This chapter returns to the life of Coketown is laboring poor. A conniving and dishonest man named Slackbridge is at the head of a movement to create labor unions. He has taken the legitimate concerns of the poor but he is more interested in inciting outrage and building a platform for his own power and edification than in achieving the common goals of the “Brotherhood.” Stephen Blackpool is one of the power loom weavers and he is present at the meeting but he declines to join the union. Slackbridge denounces Blackpool and he curbs his language only after several members of his faithful crowd demand that Stephen be given a chance to defend himself. Of course, Stephen lacks the rhetorical skills and the manipulative desires of Slackbridge and his deeply felt remarks are received but to little avail. Stephen has no problem with others joining the movement and he supports them but he cannot join and would simply like to continue his job without any trouble. Unfortunately, under Slackbridge’s new regime, Stephen is ostracized as a traitor and he is deliberately ignored and shunned. Suffering the silent treatment, Stephen avoids seeing Rachael because he worries that if she is seen with him she will be treated in a similar way. The union movement has not yet spread to the women but it is expected in the near future. Stephen’s life has simply gone from bad to worse and things look to get a little better when he receives a summons to see Mr. Bounderby in his residence.

V. Chapters 5 to 8 :

When Stephen arrives he is in the company of Mr. Bounderby, Louisa, Mr. Harthouse and Tom. Mr. Bounderby intends to make an example of Stephen and present him to Mr. Harthouse as a sort of specimen of the lower classes. He asks Stephen if the other laborers have been harassing him but Stephen is unwilling to disparage his fellow workers. Bounderby then suggests that Stephen’s conduct is on account of some far-fetched hope that he is going to come into luxury because he has resisted the insurrectionist movement. Stephen replies that he made a promise not to join the union and that is why he has refrained (but this is not a promise he has made to Bounderby but to another). When Mr. Bounderby describes the group as a gang of “rascals and rebels,” Stephen argues in their favor and explains that economics is at the root of their crisis. The problem is rich people who argue that they are always correct and that the poor are always in the wrong simply because of how much money they have. Stephen describes the situation as a “muddle” and he assures Bounderby that the problem is larger than Coketown and its factories and the longer the problem goes unsolved the greater the tension. Bounderby does not appreciate the criticism and on a whim, he decides to repay Stephen’s loyalty by accusing him of being disloyal. He goes as far as to say that Stephen has betrayed both his employer and his fellow employees and he caps his argument off by firing Stephen “for a novelty.” Upon completion of his current assignment, Stephen is to leave the factory. Stephen appeals that he will not be able to find work in another place but Mr. Bounderby does not care. He looks at Louisa in the hopes of her rescuing him but she has lowered her head. house, it is getting dark. 

By the time Stephen leaves Mr. Bounderby’s slum, he encounters Rachael walking alongside the old countrywoman that he had seen about a year previously. Just as she had been before, the lady was in a cheery mood despite the somber atmosphere. She has heard about Mr. Bounderby being married and hoping that she might get a chance to see the bride but she has not been very lucky. Stephen assures the woman that Louisa is young and pretty and this, of course, is exactly what the lady wants to hear . Stephen informs Rachael that he has lost his employment and they are both depressed because they know Stephen is going to have to leave Coketown if he there is any hope of him working again. Though he is not happy to leave, Stephen is sure that Rachael’s life will be easier without him there to complicate things. Deep down, both of them know that they will never see each other again. Stephen asks the old lady about her family and she announces herself as Mrs. Pegler, a widow. She also says that she “had a son” and Stephen and Rachael assume that her son has died though this is not what Mrs. Pegler has actually said. She restates her claim: “I have lost him.” There is a small disturbance and the landlady comes up the stairs and informs Stephen that Mrs. Bounderby has arrived to see him. Mrs. Pegler is horrified that the woman might see her and she hides in a corner. When Louisa enters, she does the best that she can to undo her husband’s wrong though of course, she cannot undo what he has decided. She offers some money to Stephen and he shows his decency by refusing the larger sum she offers and he instead takes two pounds a nominal amount that shows that he is grateful but independent. Louisa has brought Tom with her and Tom seems to have some sort of plan in mind. He tells Stephen that he will be able to help him further and instructs him to loiter outside of the bank to wait for more instruction. Stephen does all of this for two days to no avail, for word never comes from Tom. He finishes his assignment and begins his journey to a new town and a new life.

Mr. Harthouse has been very successful in his teaching job and he is considered to have great promise in the industry. He has been devoting most of his attention to Louisa, however. Louisa is clearly unhappy in her marriage and she reiterates the question that she posed her father: “What did it matter what do anything matter.” Just as she goes through her life not caring what happens, Harthouse is also ambling through simply because he is, at heart, too lazy to actually engineer any sort of design or plan. He never makes a deliberate plan to seduce Louisa, he simply figures that whatever will happen will happen and at this point, he neither hastens nor prevents an amorous relationship from developing. After months of study, Harthouse begins to understand Louisa and he makes efforts to make her happy. He realizes that his philosophy will gain little ground with her because he does not care about the issues and she realizes that her life is so incredibly cloistered and detached from the outside world. The only way that Harthouse can make Louisa happy is through Tom and he decides he will take advantage of an opportunity should it present itself. Mr. Bounderby is increasingly wealthier and he adds to the trappings of his social position with a “snug little estate”: a country-house he has bought from a man who went bankrupt. On an occasion, Harthouse finds Louisa alone and in a conversation with her he professes an incredible interest in Tom and in winning her trust, he learns that Tom has borrowed quite a bit of money from Louisa to repay gambling debts. Tom’s ungrateful manner and his increasingly reckless lifestyle are both a source of consternation for Louisa. When Harthouse gives Tom a stern talking-to and Tom’s behavior slightly improves, Harthouse moves into Louisa’s good graces.

At this point, Harthouse has not committed himself to any plan of action. In fact, he has yet to develop romantic feelings for Louisa in a true sense. He is simply passing the time by expressing interest in her. Bounderby bursts on the scene with the news that the bank had been robbed. A small safe in Tom’s closet that was used for petty purposes had been ransacked and a total of one hundred and 6 de 8 fifty pounds was gone. Of course, it could have been far more than that. Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer had been in the bank at the time but Bitzer was sleeping on duty. A false key conduded that the safe was broken into with the false key. Bounderby immediately suspects found in the street and it is Stephen Blackpool for not only has Stephen left town, but Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer can testify to the man’s ambling back and forth in front of the bank for several days before the robbery took place. The crime would both increase his relative fortune and allow him to have his revenge against Mr. Bounderby. Mrs. Sparsit is shaken by the affair and she spends the next few weeks with the Bounderbys and Mr. Harthouse at the country-house. In the meantime, Louisa harbors a suspicion that her brother has somehow been involved in the crime. But when she asks him to confess, he rejects her advances even as she insists on absolute forgiveness. Louisa asks Tom if he thinks that Stephen Blackpool is involved in the crime as he seemed to be a very upright person. Tom is deliberately equivocal in his answers and Louisa leaves his room more bothered than before. After she leaves, Tom begins sobbing in guilt and tearing his hair. He loves his sister for her goodness even as he hates himself because he is so unworthy of her.

VII. Chapters 9 to 12 :

Once again lodged in the Bounderby residence, Mrs. Sparsit becomes a prowling snoop, keeping tabs on the affairs of the house. She is more and more resentful of Mr. Bounderby and seems to enjoy the fact that he is under more stress and his marriage is falling apart. At the same time, she hypocritically coddles and pampers Mr. Bounderby who only comes to resent Louisa even more, for lacking the domestic charms and offices of Mrs. Sparsit. Louisa is summoned back to her childhood home at the news that her mother has fallen ill. Of course, Mrs. Gradgrind had always been exceptionally feeble but she is in her final days and Mr. Gradgrind is still in London, working hard at Parliament. Sissy Jupe has run of the house and Louisa can detect a subtle difference in her younger siblings who have had prolonged exposure to Sissy. As Mrs. Gradgrind gets closer to death she begins to lose her already loosened grip on reality. She asks for a pen to write letters to her husband but then she simply waves her hands in the air, feigning the motion of writing and this does her just as well. Not long after this, Mrs. Gradgrind dies and little emotion is spent.

Mrs. Sparsit, once the excessively austere retreat, “feeding on the fat of the land.” When she is in Mr. Bounderby’s presence she calls him her “benefactor” but when he is not around, she addresses his portrait as “a Noodle.” But Mrs. Sparsit’s main area of concern is not Mr. Bounderby but his wife and her increasingly dangerous relationship with Mr. Harthouse. Mrs. Sparsit sees Louisa walking down an imaginary staircase that leads to her doom and the unraveling of the marriage. Sometimes, Mrs. Sparsit becomes frustrated because Louisa has an incredible reserve but Sparsit believes that time will prove the story to be one of interest. And throughout the events that unfurl, Sparsit makes no attempt to intervene. Mr. Bounderby is spending more and more time at the bank though the thief remains free. Mrs. Sparsit focuses on Tom and tries to get information out of him but of course, Tom is not perceptive enough to detect the shift in his sister’s relationship. As the chapter ends, Mrs. Sparsit prepares to do some deteliive footwork and she is confident that she will be successful. that is happening and she is ascetic, is enjoying.

Mrs. Sparsit keeps a constant watch on everything dismayed that Louisa has taken such a long time to fall into the gulf at the foot of the Gradgrind education has robbed her of the very fancies that would prey upon her now. Tom informs Mrs. Sparsit that during this weekend, Mr. Bounderby is remaining in town and he has the chore of meeting Mr. Harthouse at the train station. Mrs. Sparsit then goes to Mr. Bounderby and wins permission to lodge at the country house for the weekend. After Tom leaves, Mrs. Sparsit realizes that Tom has been fooled and that Louisa and James are planning a tryst. Mrs. Sparsit watches from her post at the bank and then when the timing is right she hastily makes her way to the country-house and sure enough she finds Louisa and James sitting in a garden together. He confesses his love but Louisa remains resistant. He implores her to at least commit to seeing him but she refuses. He suggests a change of venue and the entire time, Mrs. Sparsit, hidden behind the shrubs, gloats to herself that the two young people have no idea that they are being watched. Harthouse leaves and Louisa soon follows. Mrs. Sparsit assumes that Louisa has eloped and that they have a planned meeting-place and so she trails Louisa as best as she can. It is raining and Mrs. Sparsit is already dirty and muddy from hiding and crawling through the bush. Sparsit follows Louisa to the train station and thinks that Louisa has hired a coachman to get her to Coketown faster but after a few moments Sparsit sees that she is incorrect. Louisa has boarded some train. “I have lost her” is Mrs. Sparsit’s exclamation of defeat and frustration.

Louisa arrives at her father’s house in Coketown, much to his surprise. She is incredibly perturbed, but far from Mrs. Sparsit’s expectations, she is not engaged in any romantic enterprise. Louisa begins an angry interrogation of her father in regards to her education where are her emotions: “the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart?” She explains to her father that he has done her a horrible disservice and that she is now in a ruined position. Her capacity to love and to differentiate between emotions is incredibly, deliberately deformed. Mr. Gradgrind is moved with pity and he begins to make an apology to Louisa, who has become more distraught than ever before. She implores her father to save her from her situation for he has gotten her into it. She then passes out on the ground and Mr. Gradgrind’s educational system has come crashing down with her. This is the end of Book Two: Reaping.

VIII. Book 3 : ‘Garnering’ : Chapters 1 to 4 :

Louisa wakes up in her old room in her father’s house and sees her little sister, Jane. Louisa learns Sissy put her to bed the night before and brightened up the room. Louisa observes Jane seems very happy. Mr. Gradgrind comes to check on Louisa and wishes he had learned of her problems sooner. He assures her his intentions for her have always been good. He no longer trusts his ability to advise her and questions his long-term belief in the wisdom of the head over the wisdom of the heart. He now suspects both are important. He asks if she thinks Jane’s education has been more balanced because he has so often been absent, serving in Parliament. Louisa says if this is so, it can only be good for Jane. Sissy comes in after Mr. Gradgrind and offers to stay with Louisa. The two women recognize Louisa’s demeanor toward Sissy cooled considerably after her engagement, but they affirm their mutual affection and reconcile. Louisa allows Sissy to comfort her. Tom visits James Harthouse to ask why he never appeared at the station the night before. Harthouse replies only that he was “detained.” Tom complains of his own long wait; before he leaves, he says he has not seen Louisa. Harthouse considers his chances against Mr. Bounderby in a physical confrontation, but his only other visitor is Sissy. He immediately notices how pretty she is. She tells him Louisa will not see him again , and there is no hope of changing this situation. He argues he knows her marriage is unhappy, and he understands her. Sissy counters she knows Louisa even better than he does. She tells him his only course of action now is to leave Coketown and never return. He dismisses the suggestion as ridiculous, and Sissy quietly repeats herself . He must go. When he asks who Sissy is, she tells him her name and that she lives in the Gradgrind house. Her father “was only a stroller” who abandoned her. Sissy leaves, and Harthouse thinks, “It wanted this to complete the defeat.” He writes letters to his brother, Mr. Bounderby, and Mr. Gradgrind declaring his intention to leave his teaching post. He packs his things and leaves for the train station. Later he reflects that the incident in Coketown is the “only one that made him ashamed of himself.”

Mrs. Sparsit follows Mr. Bounderby to London and tells him about her Louisa and James Harthouse. Mr. Bounderby returns to Coketown and goes straight to Mr. Gradgrind’s house. Mr. Gradgrind explains to Mr. Bounderby that Louisa is in his home. She has not had an affair with James Harthouse but is in a fragile state. He tells Mr. Bounderby they have never really understood Louisa. Mr. Bounderby counters with his rage, expressing his belief Louisa has never respected or appreciated him as he deserves. He demands Louisa return to his house immediately, although Mr. Gradgrind suggests Louisa remain at home while she recovers. Mr. Bounderby, as is typical for him, believes Louisa wants to be fed turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. He decides if she does not return to him by noon the next day, the marriage is over. He refuses to reconsider this decision. Louisa does not return, and Bounderby resumes “a bachelor life.” presents a wanted poster

Investigation of the bank robbery continues, and Slackbridge of Stephen Blackpool at the union meeting, declaring he was right about Stephen being a bad sort. Mr. Bounderby and Tom bring Rachael to see Louisa because she knows Louisa visited Stephen after he was fired. Rachael declares Stephen is innocent and says she has written, asking him to return to Coketown to defend himself. Mr. Bounderby says the post office has no record of such a letter, and Rachael tells him Stephen had to change his name to find work in another city. She will not provide Stephen’s whereabouts and assures the group he will return in two days. Louisa wishes Stephen and Rachael well, but Mr. Bounderby remains convinced of his guilt. After Mr. Bounderby and Tom leave, Sissy promises to visit Rachael the next night to see if word of Stephen arrives. After Rachael leaves, Mr. Gradgrind asks Louisa if she believes Stephen is innocent. Louisa says she does; both are moved by Rachael’s faith in Stephen. However, two days pass with no word from Stephen. Believing her letter has been lost, Rachael gives up his address, but the messengers dispatched to find him return alone. Another week passes with no sign of Stephen, leaving everyone to wonder where he is.

Chapters 5 & 6 :


IX. Sissy visits Rachael every night for news of Stephen, and Rachael someone has killed him to keep him from exposing the truth about the robbery. He is not in any lodging houses, so he has not fallen sick. On Friday evening Sissy suggests they go to the country to look for him on Sunday if no word arrives on Saturday. In the meantimie Mrs. Sparsit arrives at Mr. Bounderby’s house, with Mrs. Pegler, the woman suspected of colluding with Stephen Blackpool. Tom and Mr. Gradgrind are there for a meeting. Expecting Mr. Bounderby to praise her for nabbing the suspect, Mrs. Sparsit is Mr. Bounderby’s fury. All in attendance learn Mrs. Pegler is not a suspect in the robbery; on the contrary, she is Mr. Bounderby’s mother, who is deeply offended when Mr. Gradgrind suggests she abandoned her son and left him with an abusive grandmother. She talks of her mother as a saintly woman and tells Mr. Gradgrind that, despite their limited means, she and her husband doted on their son. After her husband died, Mrs. Pegler worked hard to send her son to school and obtain an apprenticeship for him. She owns a shop in a neighboring town, and Bounderby sends her 30 pounds a year but asks her never to visit or talk about him. She believes this arrangement is fitting and says, “O for shame, to accuse me of being a bad mother to my son, with my son being here to tell you so different.” Mr. Bounderby paces and swells during this explanation, issues various threats, but refuses to comment on the revelations. He simply sends his guests away. He knows the truth about his family will get around town quickly. Tom stays close to Mr. Bounderby to monitor the progress of the bank robbery case. Sissy and Louisa never speak of Tom as a suspect, but they and Rachael continue to worry about Stephen’s whereabouts.

On Sunday Sissy and Rachael go to the countryside to look for any sign of Stephen. Near the edge of a disused coal pit known as the Old Hell Shaft, they find a hat with his name written in the brim. Stephen has fallen into the pit, so the two women disperse to find help. Sissy finds two men who help gather more assistance and send a message to Louisa. The rescuers set up a rope and pulley into the shaft; after many hours, and with the help of a surgeon, they determine how to bring Stephen’s battered body safely to the surface. Stephen is happy to see Rachael but calls his fall into the pit more of “a muddle.” Active pits are a hazard to miners who work them; disused pits are a hazard to travelers who encounter them. “See how we die an no need, one way an another-in a muddleeveryday!” He tells her he believes Tom set him up for the robbery. He also talks about watching the stars while he lay in the pit and about his belief that he saw the same star that guided pilgrims to Jesus’ birthplace. In the end he is content to walk-even though he is carried-one last time with Rachael.

X. Chapter 7 to 9 :

During the activity surrounding Stephen’s rescue, Sissy whispers to Tom in the crowd, urging him to escape while he can. She tells Mr. Gradgrind that she told Tom to find Mr. Sleary’s circus, and the family plans to send Tom abroad from the nearby port of Liverpool so he can escape Mr. Bounderby’s wrath. The Gradgrinds and Sissy catch up with the circus and find the performers have hidden Tom by painting his face black to play a servant in one of their skits. After the performance Mr. Gradgrind confronts a sulky Tom who tells his father how he staged the robbery to cover his debt of the 150 pounds. Mr. Gradgrind tells Tom he has arranged for him to leave the country and offers his forgiveness. Tom refuses to speak to Louisa or show her gratitude or love. He sulkily accuses her of never caring for him. Just as the circus troupe and the Gradgrinds prepare to transport Tom, Bitzer arrives on the scene to apprehend Tom and return him to Mr. Bounderby to face justice.

Mr. Gradgrind attempts to appeal to Bitzer’s better nature and allow them to proceed with their plan for Tom, but Bitzer’s fact-based education convinces him it would be impractical to let Tom go: if Bitzer returns Tom to Mr. Bounderby, he has a good chance of being promoted to Tom’s position. Mr. Sleary plays along with Bitzer’s plans and lets him take Tom, escorted by some of his performers.

The Gradgrinds and Sissy wait in an inn until Mr. Sleary returns to tell them the plan was a success, and Tom is safely aboard a ship out of England. In private Mr. Sleary tells Mr. Gradgrind that 14 months before, an old dog came to the circus and checked all the children in the troupe before standing on its hind legs, wagging its tail, and dying. Mr. Sleary says the dog was Merrylegs, and his return to the circus meant Mr. Jupe had died. The dog returned to look for Sissy. Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Sleary agree to spare Sissy the pain of this story, Mr. Sleary then bids them all farewell and hopes Mr. Gradgrind will think better of performers in the future because entertainment after all is a valuable service to people.

Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Bounderby quarrel because he resents her for exposing his mother, and she resents him for marrying Louisa. She tells him she has been calling his portrait a Noodle, and he suggests she return to Lady Scadgers. She agrees. After Mrs. Sparsit leaves him, Mr. Bounderby lives for five more years, long enough to promote Bitzer at the bank, and also long enough to become a mockery in Coketown before dying of a fit in the street. Mr. Gradgrind modifies his philosophy, “making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity.” He loses his seat in Parliament, and his political colleagues taunt and scom him. The narrator calls these politicians “national dustmen” who have no real interest in the good of the People. Rachael continues to work in the factory and is the only one of her compatriots to show mercy and compassion to a drunken beggar woman seen about town. Tom comes to regret the way he has treated Louisa and writes her a letter. He attempts to move doser to England, hoping to see her but falls sick during the journey and dies alone. Louisa does not remarry and has no children of her own. Sissy does marry and has children who love Louisa for telling them stories. Louisa rededicates her life to helping workers and others embrace their imaginations and shows them kindness as a duty to be done.”


The title ‘Hard Times’ or the full title ‘Hard Times for These Times’ refers difficulties of life caused by industrialization in England in the 19th century and by the constraints of rigid, fact-based education that arose along with it in the attempt to increase profits and control life and thought.



Hard Times is a novel of social protest which attacks utilitarianism, Bentham’s theory which only considered the practical aspects of happiness and ignored emotional, spiritual and moral values. It is set in Coketown, a fictitious industrial city in northern England in the mid 1800s. It has been said that Coketown has the characteristics of real factory towns like Manchester.

Character List:

Mr. Gradgrind

Thomas Gradgrind is the notorious school board Superintendent, who is the pursuit of profitable enterprise. His name is now used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with cold facts and numbers, a follower of Utilitarian ideas who neglects the imagination. He soon sees the error of these beliefs however, when his lives fall into disarray.

dedicated to children’s

Mr. Bounderby Josiah Bounderby is a business associate of Mr. Gradgrind. Given to

boasting about

to the

being a self-made man, he employs many of the other central characters of the novel. He has risen to a position of power and wealth from humble origins (though not as humble as he claims). He marries Mr. Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa, some 30 years his junior, in what turns out to be a loveless marriage. They have no children. Bounderby is callous, selfcentred and ultimately revealed to be a liar and fraud.


Louisa (Loo) Gradgrind, later Louisa Bounderby, is the eldest child of the Gradgrind family. She has been taught to suppress her feelings and finds it hard to express herself clearly , saying as a child that she has “unmanageable thoughts.” After her unhappy marriage, she is tempted to adultery by James Harthouse, but resists him and returns to her father. Her rejection of Harthouse leads to a new understanding of life and of the value of emotions and the imagination. She reproaches her father for his dry and fact-based approach to the world and convinces him of the error of his ways. Sissy Jupe

Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe is a circus girl of Sleary’s circus, as well as a student of Thomas Gradgrind’s very strict classroom. Sissy has her own set of values and beliefs which make her seem unintelligent in the Gradgrind household. At the end of the novel, when the Gradgrinds’ philosophy of religiously adhering solely to facts breaks down, Sissy is the character who teaches them how to live. Sissy Jupe is first introduced to the readers as Girl Number Twenty in Gradgrind’s classroom. She struggles to keep up with Gradgrind’s extreme reliance on the recitation of facts, and therefore is seen as not worthy of the school. Sissy is also representative of creativity and wonderment because of her circus background, and those were things that the Gradgrind children were not allowed to engage in. With the urging of Josiah Bounderby, Mr. Gradgrind goes to inform Sissy’s father that she can no longer attend his school. Gradgrind and Bounderby arrive at the Pegasus’ Arms, the Coketown public-house where Sissy, her father, and the rest of Sleary’s circus were staying. While Sissy and her father were very close once, Mr. Jupe packed up and abandoned his daughter, leaving Sissy alone. In a moment of compassion, Mr. Gradgrind takes Sissy into his home and gives her a second chance at the school. Sissy continues to fall behind in school, so Mr. Gradgrind keeps her at home to tend to his invalid wife. While Sissy is the device of imagination and fantasy in the novel, she also serves as the voice of reason. The reason she cannot grasp the philosophy of Gradgrind’s classroom is because she actually has a more realistic view of how the world should be perceived. After Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind come to terms with the fact that their way of life is not working, Sissy is the one they come to; she takes care of Louisa and helps her live a new, Tom

happy life.

Gradgrind, Junior is the oldest son and second child of the Gradgrinds. Initially sullen and resentful of his father’s Utilitarian education, Tom has a strong relationship with his sister Louisa. He works in Bounderby’s bank (which he later robs), and turns to gambling and drinking. Louisa never ceases to adore Tom, and she aids Sissy and Mr. Gradgrind in saving her brother from arrest. Stephen Blackpool

Thomas (Tom)

is a worker at one of Bounderby’s mills. He has a drunken wife who no longer lives with him but who appears from time to time. He forms

Stephen Blackpool a close bond with

Rachael, a co-worker, whom he wishes to marry. After a dispute with Bounderby, he is dismissed from his work at the Coketown mills and, shunned by his former fellow workers, is forced to look for work elsewhere. While absent from Coketown, he is wrongly accused of robbing Bounderby’s bank. On his way back to vindicate himself, he falls down a mineshaft. He is rescued but dies of his injuries.

Other characters

– Bitzer – is a very pale classmate of Sissy’s who is brought up on facts and taught operate according to self-interest. He takes up a job in Bounderby’s bank, and later trles to arrest Tom.

– Rachael – is the friend of Stephen Blackpool who attests to his innocence is accused of robbing Bounderby’s bank by Tom. She is a factory worker, a childhood friend of Blackpool’s drunken and often absent wife, and becomes the literary tool for bringing two parallel story lines together at the brink of Hell’s Shaft in the final book. Bounderby,

Mrs. Sparsit — is a widow who has fallen on hard times. She is employed and is jealous when he married Louisa, delighting in the belief that Louisa is later about to elope with James Harthouse. Her machinations are unsuccessful and she is ultimately sacked by Bounderby. attempts to

the by

James Harthouse – is an indolent, languid, upper-class gentleman, who Louisa. complains.

Woo Mrs. Gradgrind – the wife of Mr. Gradgrind, is an invalid who constantly Tom Sr.’s apparent attraction to her is because she totally lacks ‘fancy, though she also unintelligent and without empathy for her children. speaks with a

appears to be Sissy’s father. He

Mr. Sleary – the owner of the circus which employs lisp. A kind man, he helps both Sissy and young Tom when they are in trouble. Mrs. Pegler – an old woman who sometimes visits Coketown to observe the Bounderby estate. She is later revealed to be Bounderby’s mother, proving his “rags-to-riches” story a lot of –

to be fraudulent. Jane Gradgrind – a younger sister of Tom and Louisa Gradgrind who spends time with Sissy Jupe. She is cheerful, affectionate and despite looking similar to Louisa, in personality she is opposite.


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Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary

Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary

Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary

Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times SummaryHard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary Hard Times Summary

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