Hard Times


Charles Dickens

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Hard Times: Book 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Meanwhile, the workers at Bounderby's factory in Coketown have had enough of their bad working conditions. They meet in a hall somewhere in the town, where a speaker named Slackbridge incites their rage against the cruelty of the industrial system and insists they must form a union to protect themselves from the manufacturers. The men agree. Stephen however, for a mysterious reason he won't name, says he cannot go along with them in forming the union.
The terrible conditions of the factory eventually inspire the men working there to band together to try to strengthen themselves so as to be able to face off with the owners.
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While many are sympathetic to this man who has suffered much, they cast him out nonetheless and say that he must be shunned by all as punishment for not joining the union. And so not a single man speaks to Stephen for four days, until Bitzer comes up to him and asks him to accompany him to Bounderby's house.
Yet, the group that hopes to prove the antidote to the poison of industrialism—the union—hurts Stephen just as much as the factory itself does. In doing so, the union shows that, like the owners, it cares more about power than about people.
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