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The anonymous narrator serves as a moral authority. By making moral judgments about the characters, the narrator shapes our interpretations of the novel.
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 know.
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.
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.
Hard Times is set in the middle of the 19th century in the fictional medium-sized factory town of Cokeville, which Dickens may have modeled on an actual city, such as Preston, Blackburn, or Burnley.
The novel is divided into three main parts (books), with the titles of the books (Sowing, Reaping, and Gathering) suggested by Galatians 6:7 (from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the New Testament), “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Hard Times!