Hard Times


Charles Dickens

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Hard Times: Book 1, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

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 lunch and accompanied by Mrs. Sparsit.
The contrast between Mr. Bounderby's fine way of dining and the bone-tired state of the poor factory workers is striking. Dickens is absolutely trying to make clear the huge disparity in wealth created by industrialization.
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Stephen asks him if there is anything he can do to dissolve his unhappy marriage. Bounderby maintains that the law is the law, and that the sanctity of marriage must be preserved. As Stephen unhappily protests, he scandalizes Mrs. Sparsit. Bounderby refuses to give Stephen any help in what he describes as Stephen's unlawful and unholy quest to leave his marriage. Stephen, sighing, departs from Bounderby's residence.
Bounderby is uninterested in helping his workers, and casts Stephen's desire to escape his marriage as being both illegal and against the tenets of religion. Mrs. Sparsit just seems upset that Stephen would dare protest the words of Bounderby, as if he is a lesser being than Bounderby. It's worth also noting that Dickens was unhappily married and in love with other women, so his seeming vendetta against marriage in the novel is not unsurprising.
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