Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 3, Chapter 8 : Garnering (Philosophical) | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Gradgrind attempts to appeal to Bitzer's better nature and allow them to proceed with their plan for Tom, but Bitzer's fact-based education convinces him it would be impractical to let Tom go: if Bitzer returns Tom to Mr. Bounderby, he has a good chance of being promoted to Tom's position.

Mr. Sleary plays along with Bitzer's plans and lets him take Tom, escorted by some of his performers. He tells Sissy and the Gradgrinds he has a plan to subdue Bitzer and help Tom. The Gradgrinds and Sissy wait in an inn until Mr. Sleary returns to tell them the plan was a success, and Tom is safely aboard a ship out of England.

In private Mr. Sleary tells Mr. Gradgrind that 14 months before, an old dog came to the circus and checked all the children in the troupe before standing on its hind legs, wagging its tail, and dying. Mr. Sleary says the dog was Merrylegs, and his return to the circus meant Mr. Jupe had died. The dog returned to look for Sissy. Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Sleary agree to spare Sissy the pain of this story. Mr. Sleary then bids them all farewell and hopes Mr. Gradgrind will think better of performers in the future because entertainment after all is a valuable service to people.

Analysis

Bitzer's desire to bring Tom back to Coketown to face justice might seem legitimate and even honorable—Tom has committed a crime and is indirectly responsible for the death of an innocent man—if indeed Bitzer were motivated by a desire for justice. However, Bitzer wants to return Tom only so Mr. Bounderby will give him Tom's job at the bank. Bitzer, like Tom, is operating from pure self-interest, so he is unable to occupy the moral high ground. The defeat of the greedy and ambitious Bitzer, never a likeable character from the day he chases Sissy down the street and mocks her during their childhood, makes Tom's escape more palatable. Even if the reader doesn't sympathize with Tom, it is satisfying to see Sissy and the circus people, whom Bitzer still scorns, ruin his plan for advancement.

Mr. Sleary's story about Merrylegs the dog concludes the last mystery of Hard Times by revealing whether or not Sissy's father will ever come back to her. In conversation with Mr. Sleary, Mr. Gradgrind reflects on the instinctual loyalty of dogs as something in the world that can't be quantified. The elder Thomas Gradgrind who hears this story is ready to accept the possibility of unexplainable goodness in the world, signifying how much he has changed since the first time he and Mr. Sleary met on the day Sissy's father and Merrylegs disappeared from her life.

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