Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 1 Chapter 15 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 1, Chapter 15 : Sowing (Father and Daughter) | Summary

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Summary

When Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa speak together after breakfast, he tells her Mr. Bounderby wants to marry her. He explains that the age difference between them is not such a problem for people as practical as they are and explains the case in favor of the marriage. He is taken aback when Louisa asks if she is expected to love Mr. Bounderby, thinking she is above such sentimentality. He tells Louisa to make a decision based on the logic and facts of the situation and an assessment of the possible outcomes of accepting or rejecting the offer. Louisa considers the course of her life and decides to accept his proposal.

Analysis

People marry for reasons other than love, but even in the 19th century love was a common motivator for marriage. Louisa's education has driven any impulse for love or sentimentality from her rather passive mind. She has no other suitors and has no idea how she might find one if she wanted to, as she realizes her education has not provided her with social graces, or the means to attract and entertain young men. When she says "What does it matter" in response to the proposal, she means marrying Mr. Bounderby appears neither more nor less appealing than any other options she might have. She does know that by marrying him she may be able to do some good for her brother by helping protect him from the consequences of his vices, and she knows she will satisfy her father. Languid and detached, she has no strong preferences or emotions of her own, so the decision makes logical sense for her.

However, as Dickens usually adds foreshadowing to his chapters, Louisa's comment as she looks at the smokestacks gains deeper significance. When she says, "There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out," she describes herself as she is now and her eventual emotional crisis. Her father takes her observation literally, as he does everything, for its possible double meaning as it will relate to her emotions, is beyond his imagination.

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