1. What is the significance of the book’s structure? What does each of its three parts represent? Why are the different sections given agricultural titles when the book is about industrial England?
2. Does Hard Times have a protagonist? Does it have a main character? What makes you think so, and who might the main character be?
3. Hard Times begins and ends with a meeting between Mr. Sleary and Mr. Gradgrind. How are the meetings different? What changes in Mr. Gradgrind’s character and values do we see between his first and last encounter with the circus folk?
4. Discuss the character of Stephen Blackpool. How does he represent the poor Hands in Hard Times? Do you think it is an accurate representation? Is it meant to be?
5. Hard Times is built around a few simple, contrasting thematic ideas. What are some of them, and how do they function in the book? How does Louisa fit among these ideas?
6. As a child, Bitzer is a model pupil at Gradgrind’s school. How does his conduct as a porter at Bounderby’s bank reflect his early education? Would you consider him a “success” according to Gradgrind’s criteria? Why or why not?