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?
It may be that Dickens chose to center his
novel on the wealthy -middle class rather than on the lower classes
he sought to defend because he realized that most of his Victorian
readers would come from the middle classes and that very few of
his readers would come from the lower classes. By centering his
book on characters with whom his readers could identify, he was
better able to awaken their feelings for characters with whom they
might otherwise be unable to identify—namely, the poor of Coketown
and of England in general. In that sense, the book does its job.
Of course, the contrary argument could also be made that the novel
simply reinforces comfortable middle-class stereotypes about the
noble poor, and it offers no real solution or possibility for change.
is a fairly minor character in Hard Times. What
themes does she illustrate? Why is she important in terms of plot
Although Mrs. Sparsit is a relatively minor
character, her pride drives much of the action in the second half
of the novel. Originally from an aristocratic background, Mrs. Sparsit
has fallen on hard times, and she must work as Bounderby’s housekeeper
for a living. Because she wants to marry Bounderby so that she can
share his wealth, Mrs. Sparsit secretly connives to destroy his
marriage to Louisa. Yet even while she panders to Bounderby, Mrs.
Sparsit considers him an upstart “Noodle,” and considers herself
his superior because of her aristocratic blood. Although she is
a proud aristocrat, Mrs. Sparsit shares the calculating self-interest
of capitalists like Bounderby. Thus, Mrs. Sparsit illustrates the
transition from a social hierarchy in which aristocrats hold the
power to one in which the wealthy middle class holds the power.
In her attempt to retain her power within a new social order, Mrs.
Sparsit simply ends up looking ridiculous.
the character of Bounderby. How might this character fit with Dickens’s
social program to explode the myth of the self-made man?
One defense of the new economic conditions
created by the Industrial Revolution was its expansion of individual
opportunity. The wealthy could justify the condition of the poor
by pointing out that if the poor worked industriously, they could
work their way into a fortune. Dickens implicitly mocks that idea
by presenting one such supposed self-made man as a blundering braggart.
By exposing Bounderby as a fraud who did not actually start from
nothing, as he so often claims, Dickens questions the validity of
that entire justification for poverty. If the self-made man is a
lie, then what can the poor hope to achieve? Moreover, Dickens raises
the question of whether the self-made man owes anything to the rest
of society. Are the wealthy under any obligation to help the poor?
Or must the poor help themselves?