Hard Times


Charles Dickens

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Hard Times: Book 1, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

As Stephen is walking away from Bounderby's house, he runs into an old, neatly-dressed woman who closely questions him as to Bounderby's well-being. Upon his replying that Bounderby seems well, she is satisfied. She walks with him back to the factory as he heads to his afternoon shift. When they arrive, she marvels at the looms and seems to think Bounderby's factory must be a marvelous place.
The woman's belief that the factory must be marvelous is a testament to the middle class's (not to mention upper class's) blindness regarding the awful conditions for workers during industrialization. The woman's awe of the factory also hints at a deeper connection that she has to Bounderby himself that will come out later in the novel.
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As the day ends and Stephen finishes his shift, he thinks longingly of Rachael and how his unhappiness would disappear if only he were free to marry her.
Stephen dwells excessively on this topic; the fact that his marriage cannot be dissolved seems unjust in the face of his misery. It is worth noting that Dickens has been criticized by some critics for depicting Stephen's misery in this way, as it might have been more accurate to actually locate his misery as a function of the awfulness of factory life.
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