Literature Study GuidesHard TimesBook 3 Chapter 5 Summary

Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 3, Chapter 5 : Garnering (Found) | Summary

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Summary

Sissy visits Rachael every night for news of Stephen, and Rachael begins to wonder if someone has killed him to keep him from exposing the truth about the robbery. He is not in any lodging houses, so he has not fallen sick. On Friday evening Sissy suggests they go to the country to look for him on Sunday if no word arrives on Saturday.

In the meantime Mrs. Sparsit arrives at Mr. Bounderby's house, with Mrs. Pegler, the woman suspected of colluding with Stephen Blackpool. Tom and Mr. Gradgrind are there for a meeting. Expecting Mr. Bounderby to praise her for nabbing the suspect, Mrs. Sparsit is taken aback by Mr. Bounderby's fury. All in attendance learn Mrs. Pegler is not a suspect in the robbery; on the contrary, she is Mr. Bounderby's mother, who is deeply offended when Mr. Gradgrind suggests she abandoned her son and left him with an abusive grandmother. She talks of her mother as a saintly woman and tells Mr. Gradgrind that, despite their limited means, she and her husband doted on their son. After her husband died, Mrs. Pegler worked hard to send her son to school and obtain an apprenticeship for him. She owns a shop in a neighboring town, and Bounderby sends her 30 pounds a year but asks her never to visit or talk about him. She believes this arrangement is fitting and says, "O for shame, to accuse me of being a bad mother to my son, with my son being here to tell you so different."

Mr. Bounderby paces and swells during this explanation, issues various threats, but refuses to comment on the revelations. He simply sends his guests away. He knows the truth about his family will get around town quickly.

Tom stays close to Mr. Bounderby to monitor the progress of the bank robbery case. Sissy and Louisa never speak of Tom as a suspect, but they and Rachael continue to worry about Stephen's whereabouts.

Analysis

As Sissy and Louisa become more convinced by Rachael's protestations of Stephen Blackpool's innocence, they come to wonder if she is correct in her belief that something has happened to him. With Stephen eliminated as a suspect, Tom is the next most likely culprit, and both women must come to terms with the facts of this case that point toward the "whelp" Tom. They stop short of suspecting him of foul play, although the possibility is out there.

The strongest example of dramatic irony in the novel emerges with Mrs. Pegler's identity. In the previous scenes in which she has appeared, multiple hints indicate she may well be Mr. Bounderby's long-lost mother, so the reader is likely already aware her identity will be revealed. The expectation set up is that she regrets having left her son and checks in on him to see if he is thriving. Instead the narrative turns Mr. Bounderby's entire life story into a massive fraud. He has spent years using his status as a self-made man to bully others, to gain respect in the community, to support the prevailing myth that anyone can change his life and economic class with sufficient determination. None of his story of abandonment and hardship is true. Mr. Bounderby wasn't born wealthy, but he certainly was not born into poverty. Yet the truth of his story is sufficiently impressive, as he has risen from a modestly middle-class upbringing and at eight years old endured the death of his father. From these origins he has ascended to become one of the most important men in Coketown. However, it was necessary for Mr. Bounderby to exaggerate his humble origins because doing so has given him something to hold over the factory Hands. He has been able to bully them because he could say he started out in far worse circumstances, lived in far worse conditions, and was able to achieve in spite of what he endured. Confessing to a reasonably comfortable middle-class childhood takes away his sense of total superiority in the eyes of everyone.

Mrs. Pegler appears a sad character in this scene. Her son has neglected her and sends her a comparatively small amount of money per year, the equivalent of 3,000 pounds or about 4,000 U.S. dollars in 2017. He forbids her to see him, so she subjects herself to an arduous journey every year. He has told horrible lies about her for decades. Still her deep and abiding love for him and trust in him prompt her to accept his neglect as natural and prevent her from believing he himself might have been the origin of the stories maligning her as a person who would abandon a baby in a ditch.

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