Hard Times

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Hard Times
Written by: Charles Dickens
Central Theme:
First published: 1854
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Source: Read Hard Times here
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The shortest novel by far of Charles Dickens', Hard Times is also one of his most idea based works. In it, he launches a scathing attack on the prevailing fashion of believing in Utilitarianism, a philosophy that proposed the goal of society should be “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” Dickens felt that such a philosophy saw people as mere statistics and not as individuals.

The novel was published in serial form in his magazine Household Words. It is also the only novel where London is not featured. Set mainly in the fictional industrial town of Coketown, the book is divided into three sections “Sowing,” “Reaping” and “Garnering.”

It tells the story of a wealthy, retired industrialist, Thomas Gradgrind. His two children are brought up according to strict Utilitarian principles and their teaching is completely devoid of imagination and compassion. When the elder Gradgrind takes in an orphan called Sissy, events are set to take a turn. The Gradgrind children are completely under their father's control. As they grow, the son becomes a dissolute wastrel, while the daughter is compelled to marry a man thirty years her senior. How the Gradgrinds resolve these issues and how they begin to understand the true value of human life makes up the rest of the story.

Tropes used in Hard Times include:

  • Anvilicious: This is perhaps Dickens' best example of this trope. Dickens was a populist writer with wide appeal. He had a strong point to make with Hard Times, and he wasn't going to let the message be lost by the dim and undereducated among his readers. Still rather Egregious though.
  • Author Tract
  • Butt Monkey: Stephen Blackpool
  • Complete Monster: Bitzer
  • Emotionless Girl: Louisa Gradgrind
    • Except she does feel emotions, it's just that she was never taught how to deal with with them and tried to ignore them until they finally threatened to overwhelm her. She then turns to her father for help, which leads to a CMOH for them both.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father
  • Funetik Aksent: He have Rachel (low class Lancashire), Stephen (very Lancashire), and Sleary (pronounced lisp). The remainder, who are 'normal', are probably speaking the King's.
  • Jerkass: Bounderby
  • Meaningful Name: This book is full of them. Mr Gradgrind, the schoolmaster grinds out graduates and Mr. M'Choakumchild who chokes children with facts.
  • My God, What Have I Done?
  • Oop North
  • Stepford Smiler: Mrs Gradgrind
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mr. Gradgrind forced his two eldest children to learn facts all day long for everyday of their childhood, telling them that things like imagination and emotions were worthless and should be rejected. Why? because that way they could work more efficiently and earn more money, which he believed to be the best way to make them happy.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Sissy Jupe
  • The Woobie: In the entire course of the novel, absolutely nothing good ever happens to Stephen Blackpool. What does he do about it? Try to ask Bounderby for help. When that doesn't work, he just tries to get on with life and stay out of trouble.
  • Writer on Board: Look no further than Chapter V, The Keynote.