Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 2 Chapter 9 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 2, Chapter 9 : Reaping (Hearing the Last of It) | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Sparsit remains at the country house, doing a lot of prowling about, and becomes friendly with James Harthouse, whom she likes because of his status and charm. She continues to call Louisa "Miss Gradgrind" not "Mrs. Bounderby" but claims it is just force of habit, and she remains polite and deferential to everyone. On the second morning of her stay, she finds Mr. Bounderby does not yet have his breakfast and offers to prepare it as Louisa comes downstairs. Mr. Bounderby says Louisa "will be very glad to be relieved of the trouble." Mrs. Sparsit chides him for being unkind to Louisa, but Louisa is not bothered by the remarks even though her conversation with Bounderby remains tense, and they squabble briefly. Mrs. Sparsit serves breakfast and is cordial to Mr. Bounderby until he leaves. Then she shakes her fist at his portrait and calls him "you Noodle."

Soon after breakfast, Bitzer arrives to tell Louisa her mother is ill. Thinking unhappily about her childhood and reflecting on the emotional distance from her mother and family, Louisa returns to her father's home in Coketown to see her dying mother. When she asks Mrs. Gradgrind if she is in pain, Mrs. Gradgrind says, "I think there is pain somewhere in the room, but I couldn't positively say I have got it." Then Mrs. Gradgrind tells Louisa she believes Mr. Gradgrind's studies have missed something important that she cannot name. She asks for a pen to write to him. Unable to hold a pen, she imagines she is writing anyway. Her hand stops, along with other movement, and Mrs. Gradgrind dies.

Analysis

Mrs. Gradgrind has been something of a non-entity through Hard Times thus far. She appears occasionally in Book 1 to scold her children for this or that. She lacks Mr. Gradgrind's comprehensive command of facts but endorses his parenting and teaching philosophy, so she leaves him to it. On her deathbed, however, she displays extraordinarily powers of perception about her husband and her daughter. Perhaps she has known all along something was amiss in their lives.

When Louisa comes to see her mother, she is leaving the scene of a minor squabble with Mr. Bounderby at home. Louisa is not particularly bothered by the exchange itself, but the quarrel does reflect the general discontent of her loveless marriage. Mr. Bounderby implies Louisa does not relish doing her wifely duties, namely preparing his meals, and Louisa does not contest this truth. When Mrs. Gradgrind observes there is pain in the room—and it may not be her own—she calls attention to the emptiness of Louisa's marriage and her lack of connection to other people. To underscore this fact, Mrs. Gradgrind observes that her husband's teaching has skipped important lessons she cannot name, and she confirms there are intangible, unnamable parts of existence as vital to survival as any fact. Though she does not say it, emotional understanding is one of those parts.

Mrs. Sparsit's real feelings come to the surface in her outburst toward the portrait. Noodle is a term used to insult someone's intelligence. Mrs. Sparsit appears frustrated because Mr. Bounderby, lacking comprehension and foresight, sent her away from her routine and comfortable position in his house to marry Louisa, a young woman who is not interested even in making her husband's breakfast. The possibility exists, but is never clearly confirmed, that Mrs. Sparsit may be jealous of Louisa because of her own feelings for Mr. Bounderby and is angry with him for rejecting her.

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