Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 2 Chapter 3 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 2, Chapter 3 : Reaping (The Whelp) | Summary

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Summary

In James Harthouse's hotel room, he and Tom drink and smoke cigars. As Tom gets drunk, he reveals his own dislike for Mr. Bounderby. He also reveals Louisa has never cared for Bounderby but married him out of a sense of duty to their father—whom he calls their "governor"—and because Tom encouraged her to help him keep his job at the bank and smooth his way. Tom describes their education, how their father had them "crammed with all sorts of dry bones and sawdust."

While Tom has exercised some freedom since leaving home, Louisa has followed the principles of her education. Tom thinks she is fine and will be fine, even in her marriage, because "a girl can get on anywhere," and Louisa has strong internal resources and no preferences of her own. Tom briefly passes out on the sofa before Harthouse rouses him and sends him home. Tom has no idea how dangerous the family secrets he has revealed will be in the time to come.

Analysis

Tom's loose talk with a near-total stranger illustrates the hazards of drinking too much and provides a window into the disreputable life Tom has led. When his gambling debts are exposed in a later chapter, his carelessness and drinking in this scene show how Tom might have run up so substantial a tab. Tom's comments about his schooling and the impersonal reference to his father as the "governor" reveal the contempt he feels for his family. The fact-based education and lack of childhood amusement may have been unfair to Tom, but his talk about his father also seems childish and misguided.

Referring to Tom as a "whelp" further establishes him as both infantile and dissipated. A whelp is a puppy or baby animal not yet weaned. When the word describes a person, it means a "dissolute, irresponsible young man." Tom's attitude toward his family has not changed substantially since he was a boy talking to Louisa about the "fun" he plans to have as revenge for their upbringing. Tom may never grow out of this phase, as he seems to enact revenge to the maximum. He remains stuck in adolescence and either refuses to or cannot come to terms with his deprivations. As severe, or exaggerated, as these deprivations may have been for him, his current behavior is equally so, on the opposite end of the spectrum. It is totally within the character that Dickens created for him to be such a negative presence.

Unfortunately, Tom does not know whom he is talking to and what that person is capable of. James Harthouse is already intrigued by Louisa's beauty and strangely icy demeanor that cracks only when her brother is around. He doesn't understand why she would care so much about Tom, but now Tom has given him information he can use to get into Louisa's good graces, an activity he can use to amuse himself. As Tom's motivator is revenge, James Harthouse's is selfish amusement. Neither man seems able to get enough.

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