Perhaps the least-known of all Dickens's novels, Hard Times is a social-protest novel which attempts to lay bare the malignant impact of nineteenth-century industrial society upon the people living in English factory towns. It was poorly received upon its publication in hard cover and has been often overlooked in critical surveys of Dickens's works; still, Hard Times has acquired a growing critical following in the mid to late twentieth century, largely because of critical remarks by three key commentators. Biographical Information In earlyDickens sought for ideas for a long story to be run in the magazine he edited, Household Words, which faced a shrinking circulation and falling profits. After some thought, he settled upon his theme:
Even though many of these characters have names which indicate their personalities or philosophies, they are not caricatures but people endowed with both good and bad human qualities. Shaped by both internal and external forces, they are like Shakespeare's characters — living, breathing beings who love, hate, sin, and repent.
True to the class or caste system of nineteenth-century England, Dickens drew them from four groups: Major Characters Representative of the fading aristocracy are Mrs.
Sparsit and James Harthouse. Sparsit, a pathetic, but scheming old lady, earns her living by pouring tea and attending to the other housekeeping duties for Mr. Josiah Bounderby, whom she despises. Sparing with words, she is literally a "sitter," first in Bounderby's home and later in his bank.
She lends her respectability and culture to his crude, uneducated environment. Resentful of Bounderby and others who do not have the background that she has, she seemingly accepts Bounderby's philosophy of life. In direct discourse with him, she simpers and hedges; when he is not present, she scorns him and spits on his picture.
Throughout the novel, Mrs. Sparsit connives and plans for her own advantage. Her role in the first book is one of waiting and watching; in the second book, she continues this role and enlists the aid of Bitzer, an aspirant to the middle class, to bring revenge upon Bounderby; in the last book, she serves as informer and is rewarded by losing her position with Bounderby and by being compelled to live with a hated relative, Lady Scadgers.
James Harthouse, the second face of the aristocracy, is a young man who comes to Coketown because he is bored with life. He is employed to advance the interests of a political party.
When introduced to Louisa, he becomes infatuated with her and seeks to arouse her love. Taking advantage of Bounderby's absences from home, he goes to see Louisa on various pretexts.
When Louisa refuses to elope with him, he leaves Coketown for a foreign country. The only hurt he has received is a blow to his ego or vanity.
Characters of the middle class take many faces: Just as the buildings of Coketown are all alike in shape, so are these people alike.
Josiah Bounderby, the wealthy middle-aged factory owner of Coketown, is a self-made man. Fabricating a story of his childhood, he has built himself a legend of the abandoned waif who has risen from the gutter to his present position.
To add to his "self-made" station in life, this blustering, bragging bounder has told the story of his miserable childhood so long and so loud that he believes it himself.
The story is simple: In the final book, when his story is proved false by the appearance of his mother, who had not abandoned him but who had reared and educated him, he is revealed as a fraud who had, in reality, rejected his own mother.
With this revelation and other events came his downfall and eventual death. An opinionated man, he regards the workers in his factories as "Hands," for they are only that — not people to him. The only truth to him is his own version of truth.
In the first book, as a friend of Thomas Gradgrind, he is intent upon having Louisa, Gradgrind's older daughter, for his wife. In the conclusion of book one he succeeds — by taking Gradgrind's son into the bank — in marrying Louisa, who does not love him, for she has never been taught to love or dream, only to learn facts.
True to braggart nature, Bounderby expands the story of his miserable rise to wealth by letting everyone know that he has married the daughter of a wealthy, respectable man. Book two reveals him more fully as the bounder; however, he is a blind bounder — he does not know that his young wife has found a younger man to whom she is attracted.
In the final book, when she leaves him and returns home, his ego cannot stand the blow. He does not change, even though almost everyone and everything around him changes.In Hard Times, Dickens placed villains, heroes, heroines, and bystanders who are representative of his times.
Even though many of these characters have names which indicate their personalities or philosophies, they are not caricatures but people endowed with both good and bad human qualities.
Background Information. Charles Dickens is known for writing about life during the Industrial Revolution.
Hard Times, published in , falls into this category. It focuses on the fictional town. Everything you ever wanted to know about the characters in Hard Times, written by experts just for you. Hard Times: Theme Analysis, Free Study Guides and book notes including comprehensive chapter analysis, complete summary analysis, author biography information, character profiles, theme analysis, metaphor analysis, and top ten quotes on classic literature.
Initially a bully at Gradgrind’s school, Bitzer later becomes an employee and a spy at Bounderby’s bank.
An uncharacteristically pale character and unrelenting disciple of fact, Bitzer almost stops Tom from fleeing after it is discovered that Tom is the true bank robber. May 31, · The following entry presents criticism of Dickens's novel Hard Times ().
See also Charles Dickens Short Story Criticism, A Christmas Carol Criticism, A .