Hard Times

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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 1 Quotes

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening scene of the novel, we're introduced to a thoroughly unpleasant character, Thomas Gradgrind. Gradgrind is a schoolteacher, but he has none of the affection or whimsy one might associate with someone who teaches kids. Instead, Gradgrind is harsh and stern--he essentially treats his students like adults, or even like machines. Gradgrind emphasizes the importance of facts in education: learning, he argues, is all about mastering an unchanging set of pieces of information.

Gradgrind's view of education is absurd for a number of reasons. It holds no appeal for an imaginative author like Charles Dickens--it was creativity, not command of information, that made Dickens successful. Gradgrind has often been interpreted as the embodiment of 19th century Utilitarianism, the economic and political doctrine that emphasized quantity and mathematical precision in all things. In the 19th century, England became a mechanized, industrialized society--as Dickens sees it, Gradgrind is exemplary of the country's shift toward information, numbers, and figures--a shift that made England powerful but also heartless.

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Book 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

‘Bitzer,' said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.'

‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind (speaker), Bitzer (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Gradgrind's methods in action. He calls on a toadying young boy named Bitzer, asking him for a definition of a horse. Bitzer proceeds to give a "definition" of horse that is semantically accurate and yet wildly misleading. Bitzer's glib lists of facts about horses tell us nothing about the animals themselves; he away takes all the charm and beauty of horses.

The passage, then, is Dicken's critique of Gradgrind's Utilitarian teaching methods. The world is made up of more than facts--the world is a place of beauty, poetry, imagination, and emotion; all the things that can't be summed up with a list of pure statistics. In turning his back on the beauty of the world, Gradgrind does a huge disservice to his students. 

Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Dickens describes two of the key characters of the novel, Gradgrind's children--Tom and Louisa. Both children are testaments to the tragic futility of Gradgrind's emphasis on facts. Try as he might, Gradgrind's attempts to make his children practical and efficient are failing: Tom and especially Louisa are intelligent and imaginative in a way that nobody can stamp out. Louisa in particular is a creative, imagination person--she sees the world in a fundamentally different way than Gradgrind does. Dickens conveys Louisa's creativity and adventurousness by comparing her to a fire with nothing to burn: in a harsh, efficient world, Louisa has no outlets for her energy or adventurousness. And while as children Tom and Louisa still have this "heart" and "fancy," as they grow up with their father's world of hard facts they find themselves emotionally warped and repressed.

Book 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.

Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we get our first good look at Coketown, the setting for most of the novel. Dickens uses his descriptions of the town to criticize the path his country took in the 19th century. During the 19th century, Britain pursued a series of policies that transformed its towns into industrial powerhouses, devoted to producing goods at factories. Such factories made Britain immensely wealthy, but also crippled most of its population: men and women were horribly injured in factories, families lived in poverty, and the country's cities themselves were made exceptionally dirty and ugly (although Dickens describes this ugliness in a rather racist way here).

Coketown, we can see, was supposed to be a beautiful brick town--i.e., industrialization was supposed to make it a utopia. Instead, factories have made it hideously ugly, a clear example of the limits of mechanization.

Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

‘O my dear father, my good kind father, where are you gone? You are gone to try to do me some good, I know! You are gone away for my sake, I am sure! And how miserable and helpless you will be without me, poor, poor father, until you come back!'

Related Characters: Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Dickens's talent for pathos is on full display, as is his critique of Britain's cruel Utilitarianism. Sissy, one of the main characters of the novel, has been abandoned by her father, Signore Jupe, because he couldn't find the means to support his child. Ashamed, he ran away. Now, Sissy is without a home. And yet she continues to worship her father--she can't understand the harsh truth, which is that he ran out on her. The passage is moving because we the readers know the truth about Sissy, but Sissy doesn't.

The passage also helps us see what's so inadequate about Gradgrind's way of looking at the world. Sympathy and emotion are vital parts of the human experience, but Gradgrind, and many of the other characters, ignore emotion altogether. In doing so, Dickens suggests, they're missing out on one of the essential aspects of life and humanity.

Book 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

‘You are quite another father to Louisa, sir.' Mrs Sparsit took a little more tea; and, as she bent her again contracted eyebrows over her steaming cup, rather looked as if her classical countenance were invoking the infernal gods.

Related Characters: Mrs. Sparsit (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind, Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Josiah Bounderby is a powerful factory owner who lives with a widow named Mrs. Sparsit. Mrs. Sparsit and Bounderby discuss Gradgrind's decision to take in Sissy. At first, Mrs. Sparsit says that she dislikes the idea of Louisa, Gradgrind's daughter, associating with a "dirty," poor girl like Sissy. As the conversation goes on, though, Bounderby claims that he thinks of Louisa like another daughter--a statement that Sparsit claims to agree with, despite the fact that she clearly is jealous of Bounderby's interest in Louisa.

At this point in the novel, it's not clear that Mr. Bounderby is going to marry Louisa one day--and yet Dickens already gives us hints of their relationship. Sparsit seems jealous of Bounderby's closeness with Louisa, which is why, despite agreeing with him, she glares into her cup with the utmost severity. In all, Sparsit is presented as the rather flat, negative caricature of femininity--the spiteful, jilted lover who is jealous of other women and even demonic ("invoking the infernal gods") in her nature.

Book 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

‘I wish I could collect all the Facts we hear so much about,' said Tom, spitefully setting his teeth, ‘and all the Figures, and all the people who found them out: and I wish I could put a thousand barrels of gunpowder under them, and blow them all up together! However, when I go to live with old Bounderby, I'll have my revenge.'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tom, still a young man, claims to be irritated with his father's emphasis on facts and figures--instead of accepting Gradgrind's example, he rebels, claiming that he would like to destroy all the facts that Gradgrind is obsessed with. The passage is a great example of how Utilitarianism can actually have an opposite effect on its pupils; i.e. instead of making its pupils efficient and hard-working, it just makes them miserable and soulless. (As we'll see later, Tom grows up to be a lazy, bitter man--hardly the image of efficiency and intelligence that Gradgrind had hoped for.)

The passage further complicates Tom's character by suggesting that Tom's only joy in life is manipulating other people--he seems to take pleasure in manipulating Mr. Bounderby (as we'll see, Bounderby has a crush on Louisa). It's as if Tom's upbringing has been so harsh and soulless that manipulating others is his only source of pleasure.

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.

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 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

‘Well, sister of mine,' said Tom, ‘when you say that, you are near my thoughts. We might be so much oftener together — mightn't we? Always together, almost — mightn't we? It would do me a great deal of good if you were to make up your mind to I know what, Loo. It would be a splendid thing for me. It would be uncommonly jolly!'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Years have now passed, and Tom and Louisa have grown into subdued, soulless people who don't know how to love or express emotion. Tom knows that Louisa loves him, however, if nobody else. In this passage. Tom is clearly trying to manipulate his sister into helping him out. We're not told exactly what Tom is asking his sister to do (marry Bounderby, as we'll later see), but the bigger point is that Tom is using his sister's affection for him as leverage. Tom, we can surmise, doesn't really love his sister that much--his childhood with Gradgrind has left him so emotionally impoverished that his only source of pleasure is controlling other people's feelings. He is, one could say, the Frankenstein's monster that Gradgrind's education program has created.

Book 1, Chapter 15 Quotes

‘Father,' said Louisa, ‘do you think I love Mr Bounderby?'

Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited by this unexpected question. ‘Well, my child,' he returned, ‘I — really — cannot take upon myself to say.'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind (speaker), Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, from the final pages of Book One, Louisa makes the crushing decision to marry Bounderby, a man she instinctively dislikes. Louisa goes to her father for help and advice, and finds that he's extremely unhelpful. Gradgrind has always trained Louisa to think of facts, not feelings. So when it comes time to decide whether or not to marry Bounderby, Louisa has no way of making a decision--there's simply no way that facts alone can decide a marriage. Gradgrind's weakness and incompetence is crystal-clear in this passage: he seems to acknowledge (albeit ten years too later) the hole in his education program. By focusing so exclusively on information, Gradgrind has impoverished his own soul, and left his two children lonely and repressed, without even a conception of what real love is (as this darkly humorous passage shows).

Book 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

‘An individual, ma'am,' said Bitzer, ‘has never been what he ought to have been, since he first came into the place. He is a dissipated, extravagant idler. He is not worth his salt, ma'am. He wouldn't get it either, if he hadn't a friend and relation at court, ma'am!'

Related Characters: Bitzer (speaker), Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom), Mrs. Sparsit
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bitzer (whom we met at the beginning of Book One, when he was still a kid) has turned out to be an obsequious, gossiping porter for a factory bank. Bitzer tells Mrs. Sparsit that Tom Gradgrind has turned out to be a lazy, useless employee of the bank. We can surmise that Tom has continued to work for Bounderby because he's now Bounderby's brother-in-law (Louisa has married Bounderby after all).

The passage suggests that nobody who passed through Gradgrind's fingers turned out right. Bitzer seems to be harder-working than Tom, but he's just as heartless in the way he critiques Tom and gossips to anyone who'll listen. He's hardly a likable character; like many of the factory employees, he's more interested in money than people, a clear reflection of the education he received from Gradgrind and the general industrialization of English society.

Book 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

‘Oh,' returned Tom, with contemptuous patronage, ‘she's a regular girl. A girl can get on anywhere. She has settled down to the life, and she don't mind. It does just as well as another. Besides, though Loo is a girl, she's not a common sort of girl. She can shut herself up within herself, and think — as I have often known her sit and watch the fire — for an hour at a stretch.'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind, James Harthouse
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tom has a drink with Jem Harthouse. Tom, intoxicated, opens up to Jem about his sister, Louisa. In the course of the conversation, he reveals that Louisa has only married Bounderby as a favor to him--she actually despises Bounderby. Tom seems utterly indifferent to Louisa's feelings; he's more concerned about his own success as an employee of the factory. Furthermore, he reveals his own sexist and dehumanizing beliefs here--because Louisa is a woman, he presumes, she can "get on anywhere." Her marital happiness is of no consequence to Tom.

The passage also reinforces a key fact about Louisa--in spite of her education at the hands of Gradgrind, and in spite of her sad, lonely life, she still has a spark left. Tom points out, for not the first time in the novel, that Louisa has a curious affinity with fire--perhaps symbolizing her imagination and adventurousness, which have been tragically suppressed by her marriage.

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. 

Book 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

‘Your brother. My young friend Tom — '

Her colour brightened, and she turned to him with a look of interest. ‘I never in my life,' he thought, ‘saw anything so remarkable and so captivating as the lighting of those features!'

Related Characters: James Harthouse (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom)
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Harthouse begins his seduction of Louisa. Harthouse pretends to run into Louisa by accident; then he proceeds to flatter her excessively. Because Louisa has never been treated with anything but callous efficiency, she's immediately interested in Harthouse; he represents an alternative to her usual way of life.

The passage also suggests that what really interests Louisa about Harthouse isn't exactly his flattery--rather, it's his association with Tom, Louisa's beloved brother. Louisa shows affection for Tom long after the point when it's obvious that Tom doesn't really love her. She has nobody else to love, and so she pours all of her emotion and affection into her lazy, undeserving brother. Harthouse realizes this, and so emphasizes his relationship to Tom in order to endear himself to Louisa.

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

But from this day, the Sparsit action upon Mr Bounderby threw Louisa and James Harthouse more together, and strengthened the dangerous alienation from her husband and confidence against him with another, into which she had fallen by degrees so fine that she could not retrace them if she tried.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Josiah Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit, James Harthouse
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a comical, tertiary character becomes villainous and critical to the plot of the novel. Mrs. Sparsit is jealous of the relationship between Louisa and Mr. Bounderby, and she resents the fact that she was kicked out of the house as soon as Bounderby married Louisa. To retaliate, Mrs. Sparsit tries to draw Louisa and Bounderby apart--thus, she tries to flatter Mr. Bounderby excessively, making him more conscious of Louisa's coldness. By the same token, Sparsit's flattery draws Louisa closer to James Harthouse.

The passage shows Mrs. Sparsit engaging in manipulation that's pretty obvious, at least from our perspective. Perhaps it's because Louisa is so unfamiliar with emotional matters that she can't see through what Mrs. Sparsit is trying to do, and thus falls for James.

Book 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

Wet through and through: with her feet squelching and squashing in her shoes whenever she moved; with a rash of rain upon her classical visage; with a bonnet like an over-ripe fig; with all her clothes spoiled; with damp impressions of every button, string, and hook-and-eye she wore, printed off upon her highly connected back; with stagnant verdure on her general exterior, such as accumulates on an old park fence in a mouldy lane; Mrs Sparsit had no resource but to burst into tears of bitterness and say, ‘I have lost her!'

Related Characters: Mrs. Sparsit
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

In this half-serious, half-comic scene, Mrs. Sparsit tries to track down Louisa. Mrs. Sparsit has been manipulating Louisa into falling hard for James Harthouse--now, Louisa seems to be going to meet Harthouse, though it's not clear where. Sparsit follows Louisa; she's been trying to get revenge on Louisa for having her kicked out of Bounderby's house. Tonight, Sparsit thinks, she'll finally see evidence of a romance between Louisa and Harthouse--enough evidence to disgrace Louisa and get Bounderby to divorce her. Sparsit walks in the rain for a long time to ensure that she sees Louisa's supposed infidelity, but at the last minute she loses sight of Louisa. Sparsit was so desperate for revenge that she bursts into tears. It's hard to have much sympathy for her, though--she's a petty, vindictive person, although extremely limited by the restrictions placed upon her gender.

Book 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

‘This night, my husband being away, he has been with me, declaring himself my lover. This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!'

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind (speaker), Thomas Gradgrind, Louisa Gradgrind, James Harthouse
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn the truth: after Mrs. Sparsit loses sight of Louisa, she doesn't go to meet with Harthouse in Coketown--instead, she goes to visit her father. Louisa pours out her heart to her father, accusing him of raising her to be emotionally clueless, so that she was naturally victim to smooth flatterers like James Harthouse. She demands that her father help her out of her current emotional problem--a problem for which facts and figures are absolutely beside the point.

In many ways, the entire novel has been building up to this scene. We've seen ample evidence of the limitations of Gradgrind's methods of education, but it's not until now that Louisa has shown real anger with her father for stunting her emotional development. Louisa, we always knew, still had some "fire" in her--here, she finally lets the fire out.

Book 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Louisa reunites with her old friend, Sissy. Sissy knows that Louisa has been going through a great deal of hardship--previously, Louisa had abandoned Sissy for expressing her sadness with Louisa's decision to marry Bounderby. Here, though, all tension is forgotten as Sissy reaches out to Louisa, offering to teach her old friend about the Heart. Louisa has had many years to learn about the Head--but now, it's an emotional education that she desperately needs.

The passage is interesting because it uses light imagery to show the contrast between Louisa and Sissy. Although Louisa has been compared to a burning fire in the past, here it's Sissy, not Louisa, who's associated with light and virtue.

Book 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

The blustrous Bounderby crimsoned and swelled to such an extent on hearing these words, that he seemed to be, and probably was, on the brink of a fit. With his very ears a bright purple shot with crimson, he pent up his indignation, however, and said…

Related Characters: Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mr. Bounderby confronts his old friend Mr. Gradgrind. He demands to know what's happened to Louisa. Calmly, Mr. Gradgrind explains that Louisa needs some time to herself--she's trapped in a loveless marriage to Bounderby, and needs to tend to her emotional side before she can return to Coketown. Bounderby is furious to hear such words form his old friend. His entire face convulses in rage and indignation.

Bounderby is furious with Gradgrind for a number of reasons. Gradgrind's speech to Bounderby about the importance of preserving the marriage echoes the speech that Bounderby gave to Stephen Blackpool about his own loveless marriage--the tables have turned. Furthermore, Bounderby seems furious with Gradgrind for focusing too strongly on emotions and the Heart, at the expense of facts and the Head. Gradgrind has "switched teams," and Bounderby is on his own. It goes almost without saying that watching Bounderby's ridiculous rage is extremely satisfying--he's a cruel, callous person, and now he's getting his comeuppance.

Book 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

A lonely brother, many thousands of miles away, writing, on paper blotted with tears, that her words had too soon come true, and that all the treasures in the world would be cheaply bartered for a sight of her dear face? At length this brother coming nearer home, with hope of seeing her, and being delayed by illness; and then a letter, in a strange hand, saying ‘he died in hospital, of fever, such a day, and died in penitence and love of you: his last word being your name'? Did Louisa see these things? Such things were to be.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom)
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Thomas and Louisa go through a strange kind of reconciliation. Thomas has been separated from his sister for a long time. He tries to travel to see her, but dies of illness during the course of his trip. Thomas's last words are Louisa's name.

How should we take such an ending? Tom has always been a lazy, loutish character, making his sudden transformation into a loving sibling a tad surprising. And yet the ending is characteristic of Dickens: he sees the best in everybody. Tom has had a sad adulthood, but Dickens remembers a time when Tom was still innocent and sincere in his affections for his sister--as he dies, Tom seems to revert to such a childhood state. Dickens suggests that it's never to late to repent one's sins: so many of the characters in the novel undergo sudden, surprising changes of heart that leave them better, more loving human beings.

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