Hard Times is a novel written by Charles dickens at the time of the industrial revolution. It is set in the nineteenth century in England. It is Dickens’ harsh and satirical attack on the industrial and educational systems of his time. Dickens believed in good fellowship and community values, which he felt were being destroyed by this new system based purely on ‘fact’. In the novel Dickens uses satire, humour, irony and symbolism to convey is vision and show the world what he thinks it should be like. This novel, set in a place called Coketown, England, is showing how English people live in a very harsh place. The characters in the novel include both good and bad people.
Throughout this novel Dickens attacks the industrial and educational systems using satire and humour. He uses such techniques to poke fun out of them. He also uses irony, such as in the name Stephen Blackpool who at the end of the novel dies in a black pool. Dickens uses satire to describe things, for example: ‘red brick buildings, or at least they would have been if it weren’t for the grime.’
Dickens also used characters and their names as a way of attacking the educational and industrial systems. Thomas Gradgrind is a leading businessman in the town of Coketown. He is a good example of how things are run and done in Coketown, all based on facts. He says ‘ now what I want are facts,’ and facts are what Mr. Gradgrind use as a way of destroying other people in the novel such as young Tom, Louisa and Bitzer.
Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind’s daughter is a prime example of how the educational system is a complete failure. At the start of the novel she is caught looking at the circus, which shows how she wanted to experience more than ‘the philosophy of facts’ that her father exposed her to. She is seeking love in her life later in the novel as she makes two pleas for help to Stephen Blackpool and to James Harthouse. She gets married to a fellow businessman of her fathers, Mr Bounderby. She doesn’t marry him out of love but for the sake of her brother Tom Gradgrind.
Tom Gradgrind is the son of Thomas Gradgrind. Tom is dependent on his sister Louisa a lot as he needs help to fuel his gambling habits. Throughout his life the educational system along with his father dehumanises him. Near the end of the novel the bank is robbed and Louisa fears that Tom had robbed it. She knew he was in debt and believed he did it as he worked there for Mr Bounderby. Bitzer is a model pupil of this so-called educational system. The system is so dehumanising that he thinks and acts more like a robot than a human. He has no imagination at all and as he gets older he gets more and more selfish. He has no sensitivity and no communal concern for others. He is the complete opposite of Sissy Jupe.
Mr James Harthouse is the sneaky seducing snake of the novel, who came to Coketown looking for a part in Gradgrind’s political party. He has an immediate interest in Louisa and uses Tom’s weakness in money to get to her. His name Harthouse is satirical, as he is a heart stealer. He takes advantage of young vulnerable women such as Louisa. Louisa makes the mistake of falling for Harthouse and when she realises what she had done came to her father and collapsed at his feet. This collapse symbolises the collapse of the educational system and shows its failure right in front of MR Gradgrind.
Mr Bounderby represents the industrial system in the novel. Throughout the novel he reminds people about his rags to riches story, about how he started out as a ‘nobody’ on the slums of Coketown, to reach his present social and economic status. Stephen Blackpool, who is the victim of the industrial system, works in the factories of Coketown. He is unhappily married and in love with another woman, called Rachel. His wife represents all the pain and suffering in his life and Rachel represents all the happiness in his life. He falls down a mineshaft or a ‘black pool’ at the end of the novel. He is pulled out alive but then soon dies. His name is ironic, Blackpool, as he dies down a blackpool.
Sissy Jupe is the good person in the novel. She cannot be beaten by the system. She had imagination, which only the circus folk else in the novel had. She is the heroine of the novel as she saves Louisa from James Harthouse and Louisa’s young sister from her father and his educational system by educating her. MR Gradgrind at the start of the novel adopted her, as her father, who was in the circus, ran away and left her. Sissy symbolises imagination and humanity. She is the hope for the future.
Dickens uses satire and humour in this novel very well. His attack on the educational and industrial system of his day was very good. Our world today is much different than his. There are still people today who would fit the personality of such people like the characters in the novel, however our educational system and industrial systems are probably quite the opposite of Dickens’ days’ system. We are encouraged to use our imagination with such school subjects as english, art, music technology and drama.