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Hard Times for These Times
Author Charles Dickens
Type of work Novel
Genre Victorian novel; realist novel; satire; dystopia
Time and place written
Date of first publication Published in serial installments in Dickens’s magazine Household
Words between April 1 and August 12, 1854
Publisher Charles Dickens
Narrator The anonymous narrator serves as a moral authority.
By making moral judgments about the characters, the narrator shapes
our interpretations of the novel.
Point of view The narrator speaks in the third person and has a limited omniscience.
He knows what is going on in all places and at all times, but he
sometimes speculates about what the characters might be feeling
and thinking, suggesting, at those times, that he does not actually
Tone The narrator’s tone varies drastically, but it is frequently
ironic, mocking, and even satirical, especially when he describes Bounderby,
Harthouse, and Mrs. Sparsit. When describing Stephen and Rachael,
his tone is pathetic, evoking sympathy.
Tense The narrative is presented in the past tense; however,
at the end, the narrator reveals what the future will bring to each
of the main characters.
Setting (time) The middle of the nineteenth century
Setting (place) Coketown, a manufacturing town in the south of England
Protagonist Louisa Gradgrind
Major conflict Louisa Gradgrind struggles to reconcile the fact-driven
self-interest of her upbringing with the warmth of feeling that
she witnesses both in Sissy Jupe and developing within herself.
As this attitude changes, Louisa is caught between allegiances to
her family and loveless marriage and her desire to transcend the emotional
and personal detachment of her past.
Rising action Sissy joins the Gradgrind household, and Louisa marries
Mr. Bounderby unwillingly, only to satisfy her father’s sense of
what would be most rational for her.
Climax Mr. Harthouse joins Gradgrind’s political disciples
and attempts to seduce Louisa. Louisa, confused, leaves Bounderby
and returns to her father’s house, where she collapses.
Falling action Sissy informs Harthouse that Louisa will never see
him again, and Louisa attempts to amend her life by appealing to
her father and offering assistance to the alleged perpetrator in
Bounderby’s bank robbery.
Themes The mechanization of human beings; the opposition between fact
and fancy; the importance of femininity
Motifs Bounderby’s childhood; clocks and time; mismatched
Symbols Staircase; pegasus; fire; smoke serpents
Foreshadowing Stephen’s claim that factory Hands have only death
to look forward to foreshadows his own death in the mine shaft.
Bitzer’s run-in with Mr. Gradgrind at the circus at the beginning
of the novel, when he has been taunting Sissy, foreshadows his run-in with
Mr. Gradgrind at the circus at the end of the novel, when Tom is
fleeing the country.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Hard Times!