Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 2 Chapter 7 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 2, Chapter 7 : Reaping (Gunpowder) | Summary

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Summary

James Harthouse now spends much of his time in the Bounderby home, often alone with Louisa. When Mr. Bounderby buys a country estate, Harthouse visits frequently there as well. On one visit he speaks to Louisa alone about Tom. She confirms Tom has run up gambling debts and she has sold gifts from her husband to give Tom money to pay these debts. When Harthouse offers to help Tom pay his debts and mend his behavior, Louisa is grateful. Tom joins them in the garden, and after Louisa goes into the house, Harthouse offers his assistance.

Tom confesses he is more than 100 pounds in debt and says Louisa will not help him this time. To obtain such a large sum, she would have to ask Mr. Bounderby for the money, which she won't do. Tom is visibly angry with his sister; Harthouse judges the ingratitude but keeps it to himself. He says he wants to help repair the relationship between Tom and Louisa. At dinner Tom is kinder to Louisa, and Harthouse is delighted to find her smiling at him.

Analysis

In his continuing attempt to amuse himself and win Louisa's interest and affection, James Harthouse is using her affection for Tom to help transfer some of that emotion to himself. It is a clever strategy, but it becomes clear this is all a game for him. He does not like Tom well enough to want to help him for any genuine reason. He knows Louisa is a married woman, whatever the basis for that marriage happens to be, and his attentions could potentially damage her reputation. He is gratified when he sees her smiling at him, as if he has won a prize. There is no indication he experiences joy or a surge of love or affection when she smiles, just the selfish satisfaction in knowing Tom is no longer the only one for whom she smiles.

Harthouse is right to be offended by Tom's ingratitude toward Louisa. She has done a great deal for her brother, including selling her jewelry to raise money to help him. And even more, she married a man she didn't love—or even like—at Tom's urging to protect his position at the bank. Tom believes Louisa's only function as a sister and as a wife is to operate for his personal benefit, so he is angry when she refuses to intercede with Mr. Bounderby for the 100 pounds Tom needs to pay his debts. One hundred pounds in 1854 is roughly equal to 10,000 pounds or 12,000 U.S. dollars in 2017, so this is a very significant amount of money for Louisa to ask of her husband. Tom's selfishness seems to have no bounds.

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