Hard Times

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Hard Times Book 2, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Stephen steps out of Mr. Bounderby's house into the dark evening, and runs into Rachael and the old woman he met the last time he was at Bounderby's house, whose name is Mrs. Pegler. Stephen and Rachael politely make conversation with the mysterious old woman, who again makes inquiries after Mr. Bounderby's well-being. Stephen invites Rachael and the woman to tea at his place (which his drunk wife once more left a few months ago).
The resilience of working folk like Stephen and Rachael in being cheerful, polite, and attentive to an elderly woman even while Stephen has received terrible news is impressive.
Themes
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Over tea, the old woman is revealing that she had a son who she lost, when suddenly there is a knock at the door. Louisa and Tom Gradgrind enter. From the look on his face, it is clear that Tom is not here of his own choosing. Louisa is shocked by the poverty of Stephen's rooms. She then does what she had come to do: offer Stephen some money to aid his search for new employment. Though reluctant to accept money, Stephen is grateful for Louisa's genuine kindness, and takes some, which he promises to pay back.
While the education of facts seems to have extinguished all goodness of character in Tom, it has been unable to do the same in Louisa. Because she is a woman and therefore more tender and sensitive to the feelings of the heart, she takes pity on Stephen and goes out of her way to help him. Louisa's shock at Stephen's poverty is another indication of the middle and upper classes blindness toward the true condition of the industrial working class.
Themes
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
Tom then does something very unusual: he pulls Stephen aside into a corner, and tells him (in a whisper so no one can hear) that something good may come to him if he hangs around the Bank within the sight of Bitzer every night until the night he leaves to find work elsewhere. Stephen is confused, but says he will. Tom seems nervous and jumpy. Louisa and Tom then take their leave of Stephen, and Rachael does likewise.
Louisa truly has come to try to do something good for Stephen, small as it is. Tom's nervous jumpiness suggests that his advice will in fact not do anything good for Stephen at all—that he is just using Stephen as he uses everyone else. Stephen's good heart is slow to distrust anyone.
Themes
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
In accordance with Tom's request, Stephen hangs around the Bank for about an hour every night before he leaves town. Nothing happens, and so Stephen departs after a few days to seek employment in another town, regretting that he must leave Rachael behind.
As a poor man, Stephen is at the whim of forces larger than him: the powerful factory owners and the growing unions. Neither cares about him, or about the one true thing in the novel—his love for Rachael.
Themes
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
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