This is the most philosophical of all Charles Dickens work and he uses utility theory to talk about ethics at the time. Utiltarian philosophy means “the greater good for the greater number.”
Horrendous working conditions in Manchester were comparable to Charles Dickens’s experience in London both with the pollution and waste from the Industrial Revolution and the squalor at the work houses which effectively used child, slave labour the way we see in Asia today.
Mr Gradgrind owns the factory and has a child called Malthus who in real life was famous for his principle of population. “Hand” is the term for the lowest workers in the factories of Coketown.
Steven Blackpool falls down Old Hell Shaft when trying to clear his name regarding the Bounderby Bank being robbed and dies from his injuries.
Tom Gradgrind gets on best with his sister Louise and goes to work for her husband at Bounderby’s Bank, which he then robs and spends all the money on drinking and gambling.
Tom is known as “the whelp” which is a small puppy because he is after attention. He is sneaked out of the country with the circus performers to escape justice but dies soon after.
Sissy Jupe is sent back to the circus that she used to be part of and where her father mysteriously disappeared.
The importance of imagination in life and not material things is represented by the circus and slightly different to Thackeray’s circus in Vanity Fair, which is a façade for the realities of life. Prosperity is definitely not equal to morality in Hard Times.
This novel has three parts with the titles related to Galatians 6:7, “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Sowing is the first part, Reaping is the second, Garnering is the third.
Mr Gradgrind is a utilitarian and starts up the education system in Coketown. Practicality is something he aspires to as he likes facts, statistics and materialism and only when his daughter has a breakdown only does he discover poetry.
Bounderby is a self made business man who marries Gradgrind’s daughter who is thirty years younger.
Sissy Jupe goes to live with Gradgrind and studies at his school. She goes through Hard Times living with the Gradgrinds and takes over the motherly role when Mrs Gradgrind dies.
Charles Dickens educates us in horrendous working conditions in Manchester and Preston and the book is used as his way of creating social reform for adults which ultimately strengthened trade union power, the rights of workers and the conditions they worked in.