Against a backdrop of the infamous Industrial Revolution, with all its purported social and cultural advancements, the masses of poor and unrepresented factory workers found mostly hard times: horrible working conditions (long hours and poor wages), as well as lack of education. Charles Dickens experienced those real-life “hard times” first-hand, and he captured all of it in his serialized novel, Hard Times.
About Hard Times
Hard Times was the tenth novel by Charles Dickens, with the installments first appearing in Household Words, in April 1854. It’s a slim volume (made up of 117,400 words), but also not as widely studied as many of the other novels by Dickens.
So, why is Hard Times important?
- Facts vs. Fiction: In the opening lines of the novel, Mr. Gradgrind says, “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.”
- Horrors of Mechanized Society: Those (like Stephen Blackpool) who have experienced the negative side-effects of the Industrial Revolution, are in quite a “muddle,” as Stephen Blackpool says.They all live in a haze: “A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way, now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping along the earth, as the wind rose and fell, or changed its quarter: a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothing but masses of darkness…”
- The Status of Women: Dickens challenged the long-held beliefs about women, status and divorce. He uses the platform of his fiction to explore themes and ideas that were controversial, even taboo and forbidden.In Louisa’s face, “there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression.”