Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Quotes


Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.

Mr. Gradgrind, Book 1, Chapter 1

Mr. Gradgrind opens Hard Times with this famous address to the class at his school. His words outline his philosophy of educating children: facts are more important than all else, as they are key to understanding the world and achieving success in it. This philosophy, rejected by Dickens, dismisses emotional understanding, analysis, and creative thinking, as it presents factual analysis as the answer to everything.


He was an affectionate father, after his manner, but he would probably have described himself ... as an 'eminently practical' father. He had a particular pride in the phrase eminently practical, which was considered to have a special application to him.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 3

The introduction to Mr. Gradgrind as a teacher and parent emphasizes his practical thinking. Mr. Gradgrind cares for his children, but his focus on fact-based learning extends to his parenting, so he seldom expresses feelings. The narrator so frequently returns to the phrase eminently practical in later references to Mr. Gradgrind that use of the term assumes a sarcastic tone, implying such practicality is inadequate as a cornerstone of raising children.


He had not much hair. One might have fancied he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was blown about by his windy boastfulness.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 4

The first description of Mr. Bounderby ends with details about his hair, meant to underscore Mr. Bounderby's bluster and ego by connecting it comically to his baldness. The tone of this description, combined with the mocking of Mr. Bounderby's physical appearance, also sets up Mr. Bounderby's constant bragging as a point of humor, even as this attitude creates destruction for everyone around him.


You saw nothing in Coketown but what was severely workful.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 5

When the city is properly introduced, the description of Coketown culminates in a phrase that shows how the structure and function of the town mirrors the philosophy of the men who run it. Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind, emphasize the usefulness of facts as the basis for all understanding. They scorn processes not visibly useful, just as the city rejects structures and residents not visibly useful. The city, fictitiously set somewhere in northern England, like its ruling class denies the humanity of its residents.


Her father always had it in his head ... that she should be taught the deuce-and-all of education ... He has been picking up a bit of reading for her, here—and a bit of writing for her, there—and a bit of cyphering for her, somewhere else—these seven years.

Mr. E.W.B. Childers, Book 1, Chapter 6

Mr. E.W.B. Childers attempts to explain Mr. Jupe's possible reasons for leaving his daughter, Sissy, behind. Mr. Childers explains how Mr. Jupe has patched together an education for Sissy during the circus's stops in various towns. The explanation supports the theory that Mr. Jupe has felt he had to abandon his daughter to give her the opportunity to remain in one place and pursue an education that might allow her a better life than his own.


I thought I couldn't know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it. It was not in the figures at all.

Sissy Jupe, Book 1, Chapter 9

In school Sissy Jupe is asked a question about National Prosperity. Her teacher gives her a number and asks her to determine, on the basis of this single fact, whether the nation is prosperous. Sissy later recounts her answer as an example of her hopelessness as a scholar, but her response is astute and taps into the human factor behind the actual numbers. The question and answer are particularly illustrative of the situation for Coketown's workers. By the numbers England in the 19th century was a prosperous nation, but very few workers directly experienced its prosperity.


Don't you talk nonsense, my good fellow ... about things you don't understand; and don't call the Institutions of your country a muddle, or you'll get yourself into a real muddle one of these fine mornings. The institutions of your country are not your piece-work, and the only thing you have got to do, is, mind your piece-work.

Mr. Bounderby, Book 1, Chapter 11

When Stephen Blackpool learns money is the barrier preventing him from divorcing his alcoholic and absent wife, he calls the legal system a muddle. Mr. Bounderby scolds him for such thinking and reveals the attitude factory owners and other wealthy men have toward their workers. Questioning the fairness of institutions and laws represents a threat to the social order and economic stability, so questions are discouraged. Workers are meant only to work. Their happiness is immaterial to the function they serve.


While it lasts, I would wish to do the little I can, and the little I am fit for. What does it matter!

Louisa Gradgrind, Book 1, Chapter 15

As Louisa Gradgrind contemplates Mr. Bounderby's marriage proposal, hints of her emotional detachment and dissatisfaction with her life. She considers pessimistically how short her life will be and how few options are open to her. In talking about doing the little she can and is fit for, she alludes to her desire to help her brother. With no emotional ties to anyone else, she determines it does not matter if she marries Mr. Bounderby or, indeed, anyone else.


The result of the varieties of boredom I have undergone, is a conviction ... any set of ideas will do just as much good as any other set, and just as much harm as any other set. There's an English family with a charming Italian motto. What will be, will be. It's the only truth going.

James Harthouse, Book 2, Chapter 2

James Harthouse, son of a wealthy family and brother of a member of Parliament, describes his empty life as one of boredom. He has never had to work or strive for anything, and his privilege has left him detached from his own humanity, from the events unfolding around him, and from other people in the same way as a lifetime of performing as a machine in a factory might have done. He adheres to no moral code nor to any truth other than allowing events to unfold as they will and to amuse himself as well as he can.


Deed we are in a muddle sir. Look round town—so rich as 'tis—and see the numbers o' people as has been broughten into bein heer, fur to weave, an to card, an to piece out a livin', aw the same one way, somehows, twixt their cradles and their graves. Look how we live, an where we live, an by what chances, an wi' what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a goin, and how they never works us no nigher to ony dis'ant object—ceptin awlus, Death.

Stephen Blackpool, Book 2, Chapter 5

When Mr. Bounderby confronts Stephen Blackpool about the union forming in his factory, Stephen refuses to provide information, even though he has chosen not to join the union himself. His assessment of the situation as a "muddle," an impossible sludge of circumstances and useless actions, reveals his belief a union would provide little real benefit for workers. Nor does he believe factory owners would improve the factory Hands' lot in life. He has resigned himself to the fact that their only purpose is to work and do as they're told until they die, with no hope of improvement or advancement.


But there is something—not an Ology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten, Louisa. I don't know what it is. I have often sat with Sissy near me, and thought about it. I shall never get its name now. But your father may.

Mrs. Gradgrind, Book 2, Chapter 9

Mrs. Gradgrind spends most of her life agreeing with her husband's philosophy, even though she does not have a large store of facts herself. Only on her deathbed does she realize Mr. Gradgrind's total focus on facts and reason is missing important elements. She says it is not an "Ology" or area of factual study at all, but she is unable to define the missing piece. She mentions thinking of this missing piece when Sissy is near, pointing to Sissy's emotional balance. Mrs. Gradgrind picks up on this balance, but her years with Mr. Gradgrind's facts have removed her ability to identify what it means.


I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!

Louisa Gradgrind, Book 2, Chapter 12

When Louisa finds herself tempted into an affair with James Harthouse, she flees to her father's house. In a sense, her practicality probably saves her. She is unable to identify any true feelings for James Harthouse, just as she is unable to identify any feelings of shame for her relationship with him. From a practical standpoint, however, she must know an affair would ruin her standing in the society she inhabits and would thus damage her life irreparably. She also realizes she can no longer live happily being cut off from her emotions, so she demands her father help her by preventing her from pursuing whatever disruptive emotional desires she does have and allowing her to process less destructively.


Mr. Harthouse ... the only reparation that remains with you, is to leave here immediately and finally. I am quite sure that you can mitigate in no other way the wrong and harm you have done. I am quite sure that it is the only compensation you have left in your power to make. I do not say that it is much or that it is enough; but it is something, and it is necessary.

Sissy Jupe, Book 3, Chapter 2

Sissy Jupe does not possess a large store of facts, but she does have wisdom about human nature and behavior. When Louisa comes home begging her family to prevent her from having an affair with James Harthouse, Sissy sees the most practical answer to the problem, not because she understands facts but because she understands the emotions driving the problem. She sees the seduction of Louisa is only a game to Harthouse. She knows if he remains in town, he might continue to tempt Louisa or Louisa might give in to temptation in her weakened state of mind. She knows he has already irreparably damaged Louisa's marriage, but he has not ruined her reputation. Therefore, the only thing he can do now is leave. Sissy shows courage speaking so frankly to a man whose economic status far outranks her own, but she is firm and convincing in the simplicity of her assertions.


Often as I coom to myseln, and found it shinin on me down there in my trouble, I thowt it were the star as guided to Our Saviour's home. I awmust think it must be the very star!

Stephen Blackpool, Book 3, Chapter 6

Stephen Blackpool recounts his observations of the star over the coal pit where he is trapped for several days after falling in. Seeing the star gives him a sense of hope even as he knows he is likely to die. In Book 1 Chapter 5, the narrator mentions how few of the Hands attend the many churches in Coketown, but Stephen's experience in the pit reveals they are not completely divorced from spiritual belief, and he takes comfort in the thought that he is seeing the star that might according to his beliefs guide him to a better life after he dies.


People mutht be amuthed. They can't be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can't be alwayth a working, they an't made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht.

Mr. Sleary, Book 3, Chapter 8

Mr. Sleary gets the last word in his final conversation with Mr. Gradgrind. He recognizes Mr. Gradgrind has dismissed the utility of the circus and other entertainments as frivolous and useless because they are not based in fact. When Mr. Sleary tells Mr. Gradgrind people must be amused, they must have an escape from work and study, Mr. Gradgrind's own experiences with his children's failures has made him now ready to hear and appreciate what Mr. Sleary has to say.

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