Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 2, Chapter 8 : Reaping (Explosion) | Summary

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Summary

The day after his conversations with Louisa and Tom, James Harthouse is pleased with himself for cultivating Louisa's confidence and burgeoning affections. Late in the day he encounters an agitated, red-faced Mr. Bounderby on the road, who informs him the bank has been robbed. Bitzer has brought both the news and Mrs. Sparsit to the estate. Roughly 150 pounds are missing, but Mr. Bounderby is furious about the principle of the robbery—done with a false key while Bitzer slept—not the sum lost. Tom remains in Coketown to help the police with their inquiries.

Mr. Bounderby declares his suspicion of Stephen Blackpool along with two accomplices, one of whom is an old woman. He recounts his belief that Stephen is nothing but trouble, and Mrs. Sparsit testifies she has seen Stephen loitering outside the bank after closing for many evenings. Mrs. Sparsit settles in at the country house, not ready to return to the bank because of her nerves. She is overly polite to the point of annoyance and still expresses pity at Mr. Bounderby's marriage.

When Tom returns to the house that night, Louisa asks him several times, in private, if he has anything to tell her. Tom says he doesn't understand what she is talking about, and he has nothing to tell her. He says he thinks Stephen's involvement in the robbery is possible, however honest Stephen might appear. After Louisa leaves, Tom breaks into a crying fit on his bed.

Analysis

The hints dropped in the previous two chapters come together with the news of the robbery. The reader knows about the conversation between Tom and Stephen Blackpool in which Tom invited Stephen to loiter outside the bank after hours. Being recently fired, Stephen has motive to commit a crime against Bounderby's bank, and Tom carefully places him at the scene of the crime for days before it takes place. However, the amount stolen covers the gambling debts Tom confesses to James Harthouse. For these reasons, Tom is a far better suspect than Stephen, as even his own sister thinks. However, Louisa doesn't know what was said in the private conversation between Tom and Stephen in the stairway, so she is ready to believe Tom when he says he has nothing to tell her.

Louisa's love for Tom blinds her to the facts of the situation, even as her training prevents her from wondering about the facts she doesn't have. Even without the details of the private conversation, she knows it indeed took place. Lacking the creativity to speculate—wonder—about what they might have discussed, as her fact-based education has taught her only the factual, she does not question him directly about the conversation. She also knows the amount of money stolen corresponds to Tom's debts, but she puts this "fact" aside because it is easier for her to accept that Tom doesn't know about the robbery and place blame on a stranger. Tom's crying fit at the end of the chapter reveals the first time he seems to feel guilty for abusing his sister's trust. Yet, he remains a dissipated, unrepentant man-child, a human failure in Dickens's terms, despite feeling sorry for the trouble he has brought on his sister.

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