Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 1 Chapter 14 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 1, Chapter 14 : Sowing (The Great Manufacturer) | Summary

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Summary

Several years pass, and Mr. Gradgrind tells Sissy it is best for her to leave school. He has been disappointed by her progress, even though he knows she has tried hard to learn. When she apologizes for her inadequacies, he tells her she is "an affectionate, earnest, good young woman and—and we must make that do." He acknowledges her service to his family and hopes she can continue to be happy in that role. He is deeply fond of Sissy, but he does not quite know how to understand her since she does not fit into any easy category for him.

Later Mr. Gradgrind, now a member of Parliament, tells Louisa he needs to speak to her in the morning about an important matter. Tom tells Louisa their father is spending the evening with Mr. Bounderby and hints he knows what their father wants to talk about. Tom tells Louisa he has missed her since moving to Mr. Bounderby's house as an apprentice, but he believes they may be together more in the future. He leaves her to contemplate what the future might entail.

Analysis

Subtle changes are visible in Mr. Gradgrind's personality as a result of his relationship with Sissy. Even though he expresses disappointment in her performance as a student, he recognizes her other valuable qualities. His assessment of them is lukewarm at this point, but his recognition of her good traits and service to his family represent significant progress from his attitude toward her when he first took her in, at which time he feared her sentimental and imaginative nature would prove a bad influence on his children. His thought of not knowing how to complete a government evaluation of Sissy, if he had to do so, indicates he suspects her other traits, beyond her ability to reason and remember facts, have some value. He simply does not know how to assess them.

Tom's conversation with Louisa hints at the truth, later revealed in Book 1, Chapter 15, that Mr. Bounderby wants to marry her. Louisa might suspect Tom's meaning as he leaves her deep in thought about her future. His hints and the promise they will be together again also show how Tom is attempting to manipulate her into a marriage that will benefit him greatly by appealing to the only emotion Louisa has: family love for her brother.

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