Hard Times


Charles Dickens

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Hard Times makes teaching easy.

Hard Times: Style 1 key example

Book 1, Chapter 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Hard Times is written largely in a third-person omniscient style. Chapters alternate between the story of Sissy Jupe and the Gradgrind family, and the story of Stephen and Rachael, two factory “hands.” Despite adhering to many elements of the realist style, Dickens often departs from it in meaningful ways to create moments of lightness, emotion, or political awareness in the narrative.

Most realist works are somber in tone, but Hard Times combines moments of humor and parody with the hard reality of its characters’ lives. The classroom parodies of Utilitarianism, the misadventures of the circus performers, and even the names of the characters themselves (“Mr. M'Choakumchild”) add Dickens’s trademark levity to the book, as well as underscoring the novels’ key themes. 

Another one of Dickens’s stylistic trademarks is his emotional, even sentimental, portrayal of working class heroes. His description of the circus performers is one example. As they gather together to bid Sissy goodbye, Dickens writes that: 

 [...] there was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people [...] and an untiring readiness to help and pity one another,  deserving [...] as the everyday virtues of any class of people in the world.

Dickens emphasizes the extreme generosity of the circus folk as their primary characteristic. They are a close-knit, almost idyllic community, in which each person is ready and willing to sympathize with and help another (in contrast to Coketown, where there is little compassion for manual workers from other parts of society). Dickens goes out of his way to defend them against potential critique, declaring that their lifestyle and values are as “deserving” as anyone else’s.

Equally, when describing the factory workers,  Dickens says that while “there is no mystery in [facts],” there remains “an unfathomable mystery in the meanest of [them] for ever.” Dickens is committed to depicting working people as human beings with rich inner lives, rather than cogs in a capitalist machine. The emphasis Dickens places on the complexity, goodness, and value of these characters serves the novel’s mission of bringing attention to the struggles of working people, and mobilizing its readership toward advocacy for this population.