Hard Times

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

The best, most good characters of Hard Times are women. Stephen Blackpool is a good man, but his love, Rachael, is an "Angel". Sissy Jupe can overcome even the worst intentions of Jem Harthouse with her firm and powerfully pure gaze. Louisa, as disadvantaged as she is by her terrible upbringing, manages to get out of her crisis at the last minute by fleeing home to her father for shelter, in contrast to her brother, Tom, who chooses to commit a life-changing crime in his moment of crisis. Through these examples, the novel suggests that the kindness and compassion of the female heart can improve what an education of "facts" and the industrialization has done to children and to the working middle class.

Still, not all the women in the novel are paragons of goodness. Far from it. Mrs. Sparsit is a comic example of femininity gone wrong. She cannot stand being replaced by Louisa when Bounderby marries, and watches the progression of the affair between Louisa and Jem Harthouse with glee. As she attempts to catch them in the act of eloping (and ultimately fails), she is portrayed as a cruel, ridiculous figure. Stephen Blackpool's wife, meanwhile, is bleakly portrayed as a hideous drunken prostitute.

So while the novel holds women up as potentially able to overcome the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and fact-based education, those women in the novel who do not fill this role, who have slipped from the purity embodied by Sissy and Rachael beyond even the empty-heartedness of Louisa, are presented as both pathetically comic and almost demonic. Women in the novel seem like a potential cure to the perils of industrialization, but also the most at peril from its corruption.

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Femininity Quotes in Hard Times

Below you will find the important quotes in Hard Times related to the theme of Femininity.
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.

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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 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 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 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.