Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 1 Chapter 13 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 1, Chapter 13 : Sowing (Rachael) | Summary

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Summary

When Stephen returns home, Rachael is there, sitting next to the bed and taking care of his wife. The house is in order again, and the wife is asleep. Rachael says the landlady sent for her earlier in the day because Stephen's wife needs "looking to." Rachael found Stephen's wife wounded and bruised, and Stephen observes the wounds on his wife's neck. Rachael says Stephen's heart is "far too merciful to let her die, or even so much as suffer, for want of aid." Rachael offers to stay until three in the morning, when it will be sure his wife will sleep through the night. She tells Stephen the doctor assured her his wife will "come to her mind tomorrow." Stephen enjoys Rachael's presence and offers to walk her home when the bells chime three. He expresses gratitude for her help and kindness, for making him feel calm and at ease, and he hopes someday—even in the next life—they will be able to walk together.

Analysis

Rachael's goodness and compassion are on full display in her decision to take care of Stephen's wife. It becomes apparent why he loves her. Her actions are selfless and kind. Pure self-interest would have her leave this woman to her sickness and despair with the possibility she might die. The landlady's alarm, the wounds on the wife's neck, and the comments about the wife not being in her right mind hint at self-harm. Whether she has harmed herself in a deliberate attempt to end her life or whether she has hurt herself as a by-product of alcohol-induced delirium is less clear. Whether the self-inflicted wounds are a deliberate suicide attempt or not, Rachael consults a doctor about Mrs. Blackpool's condition and tends to her. Rachael knows Stephen does not want real harm to come to his wife even though he finds no comfort in knowing his wife might have a clear mind the next day. He also has little reason to believe this improvement will occur because he has been through similar experiences with her.

Even though Stephen does not wish his wife ill, he still wants her out of his life. Rachael trusts Stephen will not harm his wife or allow her to harm herself because Rachael knows he is an honorable man, but his honor does not extend to sympathy for his wife's problems. Rachael, however, does have sympathy for Stephen's wife and wants to help her because of their friendship from years before. Rachael's care for Stephen's wife also derives from her love for Stephen. She wants only to help him rest easier in the situation they cannot escape, so she helps keep the wife calm and quiet and provides comfort for the man she loves.

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