Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Hard Times is a novel about the social condition of poverty, but very few of its major characters are actually poor and comparatively little time is spent with the poor characters. With that in mind, do you think the book does an effective job of shaping our view of poverty? Why or why not?
2. Mrs. Sparsit is a fairly minor character in Hard Times. What themes does she illustrate? Why is she important in terms of plot development?
3. Think about the character of Bounderby. How might this character fit with Dickens’s social program to explode the myth of the self-made man?
Suggested Essay Topics
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?
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