Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 3, Chapter 4 : Garnering (Lost) | Summary

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Summary

Investigation of the bank robbery continues, and Slackbridge presents a wanted poster of Stephen Blackpool at the union meeting, declaring he was right about Stephen being a bad sort. Mr. Bounderby and Tom bring Rachael to see Louisa because she knows Louisa visited Stephen after he was fired. Rachael declares Stephen is innocent and says she has written, asking him to return to Coketown to defend himself. Mr. Bounderby says the post office has no record of such a letter, and Rachael tells him Stephen had to change his name to find work in another city. She will not provide Stephen's whereabouts and assures the group he will return in two days. Louisa wishes Stephen and Rachael well, but Mr. Bounderby remains convinced of his guilt.

After Mr. Bounderby and Tom leave, Sissy promises to visit Rachael the next night to see if word of Stephen arrives. After Rachael leaves, Mr. Gradgrind asks Louisa if she believes Stephen is innocent. Louisa says she does; both are moved by Rachael's faith in Stephen. However, two days pass with no word from Stephen. Believing her letter has been lost, Rachael gives up his address, but the messengers dispatched to find him return alone. Another week passes with no sign of Stephen, leaving everyone to wonder where he is.

Analysis

Mr. Bounderby is determined Stephen is guilty of the bank robbery, so he takes every new piece of information and makes it fit that belief. As has been consistently shown, this is the way he uses facts, not for analysis but for support of his foregone conclusions. Slackbridge has a similar assessment of Stephen's guilt. Like Bounderby, Slackbridge doesn't like Stephen, so his dislike makes Stephen automatically guilty in Slackbridge's estimation. As the story spreads through town, others will make the same assumption.

On the other hand, Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind are in the midst of their respective transformations into empathetic people who look at possibilities and feelings, not just facts. The facts of the case are important, but Louisa and her father allow Rachael's knowledge and experience of Stephen to inform their interpretation of them, and the two find her confidence in Stephen compelling. Even though Stephen does not return as Rachael promises, they maintain open minds about his innocence. The rest of the city takes his disappearance as more evidence of his guilt.

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