Hard Times

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Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hard Times, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon

Dickens depicts a terrifying system of education where facts, facts, and nothing but facts are pounded into the schoolchildren all day, and where memorization of information is valued over art, imagination, or anything creative. This results in some very warped human beings. Mr. Thomas Gradgrind believes completely in this system, and as a superintendent of schools and a father, he makes sure that all the children at the schools he is responsible for and especially his own children are brought up knowing nothing but data and "-ologies".

As a result, things go very badly for his children, Tom Gradgrind and Louisa Gradgrind. Since they, as children, were always treated as if they had minds and not hearts, their adulthoods are warped, as they have no way to access their feelings or connect with others. Tom is a sulky good-for-nothing and gets involved in a crime in an effort to pay off gambling debts. Louisa is unhappy when she follows her mind, not her heart, and marries Mr. Bounderby, her father's friend. As a result of her unhappy marriage, she is later swept off her feet by a young gentleman, Mr. James "Jem" Harthouse, who comes to stay with them and who seems to understand and love her. Louisa nearly comes to ruin by running off with Harthouse.

Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe was encouraged when she was little to dream and imagine and loved her father dearly, and therefore she is in touch with her heart and feelings, and has empathy and emotional strength the other children lack. Sissy, adopted by the Gradgrinds when her father abandons her, ultimately is the savior of the family in the end.

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Fact vs. Fancy Quotes in Hard Times

Below you will find the important quotes in Hard Times related to the theme of Fact vs. Fancy.
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 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 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 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 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 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.