Hard Times

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Stephen Blackpool Character Analysis

A poor worker at Mr. Bounderby's factory, Stephen is a victim both of the industrial system and of society's restrictions on marriage. His face and body are much aged because of the grueling work he must do every day at the factory, and his heart is aged ever since his wife became a drunken prostitute and left him, occasionally returning for money. He has longed ceased to love her, and loves a gentle, kind woman named Rachael in her stead, but he cannot marry Rachael because of his preexisting marriage. His fellow workers shun him when he refuses to join the union, and Bounderby fires him after Stephen refuses to give him details about the union that his fellow workers are forming. Tom furthermore frames him in the Bank robbery, and he dies tragically, on his way back to defend his good name.

Stephen Blackpool Quotes in Hard Times

The Hard Times quotes below are all either spoken by Stephen Blackpool or refer to Stephen Blackpool. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Hard Times published in 2001.
Book 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

Stephen looked older, but he had had a hard life. It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen's case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of the same somebody else's thorns in addition to his own.

Related Characters: Stephen Blackpool
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Stephen Blackpool. Stephen is an important character--critics have pointed out that he's the only important character in all of Dickens who actually works at a factory. Dickens's portrait of Blackpool is tragic to the extreme: Blackpool's life as a laborer has left his body horribly scarred. Dickens clarifies his point with an interesting analogy: if the average human being has his share of pain and happiness, then Stephen has had his happiness stolen away from him, and in its place received an extra share of pain.

Critics often point to the passage as an example of Dickens's socialist ideas. Stephen, one could argue, has been robbed of the fruits of his own labors by wealthy capitalists like Bounderby: instead of being adequately rewarded for all the hard work he does, he's underpaid and overworked.

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Book 1, Chapter 12 Quotes

No word of a new marriage had ever passed between them; but Rachael had taken great pity on him years ago, and to her alone he had opened his closed heart all this time, on the subject of his miseries; and he knew very well that if he were free to ask her, she would take him.

Related Characters: Stephen Blackpool, Rachael
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn more about why Stephen Blackpool is so unhappy. Stephen loves a woman named Rachael, but he can't marry her--he's already involved in a preexisting marriage, and can't get the divorce. Dickens suggests that because of society's narrow-minded rules and laws, Stephen is unable to enjoy the life he wants.

The passage has been criticized by some for suggesting that the real source of Stephen's misery is love, not his harsh existence at the factory. By focusing too much on the "human melodrama," one could argue, Dickens dilutes his own critique of factory conditions in England, so that his novel is moving but not especially politically progressive.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

‘You can finish off what you're at,' said Mr Bounderby, with a meaning nod, 'and then go elsewhere.'

‘Sir, yo know weel,' said Stephen expressively, ‘that if I canna get work wi' yo, I canna get it elsewheer.'

The reply was, ‘What I know, I know; and what you know, you know. I have no more to say about it.'

Related Characters: Josiah Bounderby (speaker), Stephen Blackpool (speaker)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mr. Bounderby fires Stephen for refusing to inform about the rising union in the factory. Stephen isn't an outspoken supporter of the union, but he's loyal enough to keep from "ratting" about the union to Bounderby. Bounderby callously tells Stephen that he can finish his work and leave the factory. Even after Stephen explains that he'll never be able to get another job after he's fired, Bounderby ignores him.

Bounderby, we can be pretty sure by now, is a heartless character. He thinks of his employees as animals, or cogs in a big machine--to be replaced at any time. Bounderby represents the dark side of the emphasis on facts and figures--because he's predisposed to think in terms of numbers, and therefore profits, he has no compunction about ruining Stephen's career, or even about viewing him as a real, suffering human being. 

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Stephen Blackpool Character Timeline in Hard Times

The timeline below shows where the character Stephen Blackpool appears in Hard Times. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 10
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Stephen Blackpool, a worker or a "hand" at Mr. Bounderby's factory, is waiting for a woman... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 11
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
After a morning of tiring work with hundreds of other hands in the factory, Stephen pays a visit to the factory owner, Mr. Bounderby. Bounderby is home, eating a rich... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Stephen asks him if there is anything he can do to dissolve his unhappy marriage. Bounderby... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 12
Femininity Theme Icon
As Stephen is walking away from Bounderby's house, he runs into an old, neatly-dressed woman who closely... (full context)
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
As the day ends and Stephen finishes his shift, he thinks longingly of Rachael and how his unhappiness would disappear if... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 13
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
Upon returning home in the rain after his shift, Stephen finds that Rachael is there, caring for his wife. Rachael mentions that this is a... (full context)
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
...his sick wife sitting up in bed, attempting to end her life by poisoning herself. Stephen freezes, but Rachael snatches the poison away from her just in time. The sick woman... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 4
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
...insists they must form a union to protect themselves from the manufacturers. The men agree. Stephen however, for a mysterious reason he won't name, says he cannot go along with them... (full context)
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
...as punishment for not joining the union. And so not a single man speaks to Stephen for four days, until Bitzer comes up to him and asks him to accompany him... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 5
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Stephen joins Mr. Bounderby, Louisa, Tom, and Mr. Harthouse in the Bounderbys' drawing room. Bounderby demands... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 6
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Stephen steps out of Mr. Bounderby's house into the dark evening, and runs into Rachael and... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils 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)... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
In accordance with Tom's request, Stephen hangs around the Bank for about an hour every night before he leaves town. Nothing... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 8
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
...both instantly suspect Tom, though neither voices it. Mr. Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit, and Bitzer suspect Stephen Blackpool, who was observed lurking around the Bank multiple times at night for no apparent... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
...he's not hiding anything. He hints that Louisa should mention neither the visit they paid Stephen, Rachael, and the old woman, nor the conversation that Tom had with Stephen that night.... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 10
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
...spies on through a window but can't overhear, Mr. Harthouse manages to persuade Louisa that Stephen, whom she thought to be a just man, may very well have succumbed to the... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 4
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
...robber of Bounderby's bank has not been found. Due to Mrs. Sparsit's and Bitzer's testimony, Stephen is the main suspect and his picture is put up on "WANTED" signs all over... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
...Rachael call on them. This is no courtesy call: Rachael has been trying to prove Stephen's innocence to Mr. Bounderby, but Tom refuses to acknowledge that he was with Louisa, Stephen,... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 5
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
Stephen still doesn't come. Sissy begins to visit Rachael in her home every day, trying to... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
...Mr. Bounderby's shadow, and doesn't visit Louisa. Louisa begins to worry that maybe Tom killed Stephen. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 6
Femininity Theme Icon
...spend some quiet time, and as they are walking around, Rachael, to her horror, spots Stephen's hat lying abandoned on the ground. A few more steps forward, and Sissy nearly falls... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 7
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
Tom, however, has mysteriously disappeared. As Stephen gave his last instructions to Mr. Gradgrind, Sissy whispered something in Tom's ear, and he... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 9
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
...the rest of her days serenely but sadly working in the factory, taking care of Stephen's drunken wife when she comes back to town. Louisa grows gentler and humbler and finds... (full context)