Hard Times Study Guide

Hard Times Study Guide

“Hard Times” is the shortest novel that Charles Dickens has written. It was composed in 1854 in an attempt to boost the declining sales the author was experiencing at that time. The book is also often called the most “Victorian” of all his other creations.

The original book didn’t have any illustrations, but the language of the story is full of detailed psychological portraits of the characters, work processes at the factories, living conditions of the working class and aristocracy, and picturesque nature descriptions. Despite the short volume, the author managed to fit into the book a couple of stories that are equal in their importance.

The events happen in an imaginary English city of Coketown where Thomas Gradgrind is a typical businessman and politician of that time: he is ruled by ratio and self-interest. He doesn't allow his kids indulge into dreams and fantasies because for him everything that is not rational is not worth spending time on. His children grow up to have a rich and secure life, but there’s a feeling that something is missing.

At the same time, there’s a love story going on between two poor factory workers, Stephen and Rachael. They can’t be together because of the legalities that aren’t allowed for the poor. There’s also a game of a young Gradgrind disciple, who is trying to seduce his daughter. Don’t get too much involved with the love drama – because there’s a union strike brewing!

All these interconnected stories provoke the reader to think about power and how it corrupts people, think about dignity and morals, honor and respect, as well as other values that are often forgotten by the philosophy of fact and rationality. “Hard Times” is an exciting book, which opened a profound discussion about different classes in the societies and the artificial boundaries between them.

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