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Hard Times | Chapter Summaries

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Timeline of Events

  • Mid-19th century

    Mr. Gradgrind instructs his schoolmasters to teach only facts, nothing imaginative.

    Book 1, Chapter 1
  • Few days later

    Mr. Gradgrind takes charge of Sissy Jupe's schooling after her father abandons her.

    Book 1, Chapter 6
  • Several months later

    Sissy Jupe laments her difficulties at school and tells Louisa about life with the circus.

    Book 1, Chapter 9
  • Several months later

    Stephen Blackpool asks Mr. Bounderby how he can divorce his alcoholic wife and learns he can't.

    Book 1, Chapter 11
  • Several years later

    Louisa agrees to marry Mr. Bounderby so she can help her brother Tom, who works in the bank.

    Book 1, Chapter 15
  • Following summer

    Mrs. Sparsit, no longer Mr. Bounderby's housekeeper after he marries, settles into life at the bank.

    Book 2, Chapter 1
  • Few weeks later

    James Harthouse takes a teaching job at Mr. Gradgrind's school and decides to seduce Louisa.

    Book 2, Chapter 2
  • Few weeks later

    Mr. Bounderby fires Stephen Blackpool for refusing to inform on union organizers.

    Book 2, Chapter 5
  • Few days later

    The bank is robbed, and Mr. Bounderby suspects Stephen Blackpool, who has left town.

    Book 2, Chapter 8
  • Few days later

    Louisa visits her dying mother who tells her Mr. Gradgrind's philosophy is missing something.

    Book 2, Chapter 9
  • Next few weeks

    Jealous of Louisa, Mrs. Sparsit plots to catch her behaving questionably with James Harthouse.

    Book 2, Chapter 10
  • Weeks later

    James Harthouse, declaring his love for Louisa, precipitates Louisa's emotional breakdown.

    Book 2, Chapter 11
  • Same night

    Having fled from James Harthouse's attempted seduction, Louisa goes to her father for help.

    Book 2, Chapter 12
  • Next morning

    With Louisa in crisis, Sissy intervenes and convinces James Harthouse to leave town.

    Book 3, Chapter 2
  • That afternoon

    Mr. Bounderby declares if Louisa does not return home immediately, the marriage is over.

    Book 3, Chapter 3
  • Few days or weeks later

    Rachael writes Stephen to ask him to return and defend himself against robbery charges.

    Book 3, Chapter 4
  • Few days later

    When Stephen does not return, Rachael and Sissy look for him and find him fallen into a coal pit.

    Book 3, Chapter 6
  • That night

    Rescued but dying, Stephen declares his innocence and says goodbye to Rachael before he dies.

    Book 3, Chapter 6
  • That night and next day

    Tom Gradgrind, the real robber, hides with the circus and escapes abroad before Bitzer catches him.

    Book 3, Chapter 8
  • Five years later

    Louisa, now widowed, never remarries, does good works, and is loved by Sissy's children.

    Book 3, Chapter 9

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Book 1, Chapter 1 A man makes a speech in a classroom. He demands the teaching and learning of "nothing but Facts," as facts are the only ... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 2 Mr. Gradgrind thinks of himself as a purely rational man oriented to the value of facts. When interacting with Sissy Jup... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 3 As Mr. Gradgrind walks home from the school, he reflects on his role as a parent, feeling confident he is bringing up hi... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 4 Mr. Bounderby is a local "banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not." A large, rotund man with a loud voice, who can ... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 5 Coketown is built of red brick covered and streaked with black ash from the factory smokestacks. The city's canal runs b... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 6 The circus is lodging at a public house called the Pegasus's Arms. Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind meet with two perform... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 7 Mr. Bounderby's housekeeper, Mrs. Sparsit, originates from an upper-class family and married an upper-class man 15 years... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 8 A defining event of Louisa's life occurs when she is very young and begins a conversation with her brother by saying, "T... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 9 Sissy complains to Louisa about how poorly she is doing in school and about her mistakes when Mr. M'Choakumchild asks he... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 10 Stephen Blackpool, a worker in Mr. Bounderby's factory, is 40 years old, but his years of labor have given him an appear... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 11 Stephen Blackpool goes to see Mr. Bounderby for advice about his marriage. Mr. Bounderby greets Stephen warmly, saying S... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 12 Outside Mr. Bounderby's office Stephen one day meets an old woman who asks him questions about Bounderby. She wants to k... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 13 When Stephen returns home, Rachael is there, sitting next to the bed and taking care of his wife. The house is in order ... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 14 Several years pass, and Mr. Gradgrind tells Sissy it is best for her to leave school. He has been disappointed by her pr... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 15 When Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa speak together after breakfast, he tells her Mr. Bounderby wants to marry her. He explains... Read More
Book 1, Chapter 16 Mr. Bounderby is nervous about breaking the news of his engagement to Mrs. Sparsit because his marriage means he will no... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 1 Coketown lies "shrouded in a haze of its own." The pollution from factory smokestacks has created a murk of smog around ... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 2 The stranger is James Harthouse. A wealthy young man, he has come to Coketown to teach at the Gradgrind school after a s... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 3 In James Harthouse's hotel room, he and Tom drink and smoke cigars. As Tom gets drunk, he reveals his own dislike for Mr... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 4 Under the fiery leadership of unionizer Slackbridge, the workers at Mr. Bounderby's factory have agreed to unionize. Sla... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 5 When Stephen arrives at Mr. Bounderby's house, Louisa, Tom, and James Harthouse are present. Mr. Bounderby asks Stephen ... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 6 Stephen finds Rachael and the old woman he encountered on his last visit to Bounderby's outside the house. The old woman... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 7 James Harthouse now spends much of his time in the Bounderby home, often alone with Louisa. When Mr. Bounderby buys a co... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 8 The day after his conversations with Louisa and Tom, James Harthouse is pleased with himself for cultivating Louisa's co... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 9 Mrs. Sparsit remains at the country house, doing a lot of prowling about, and becomes friendly with James Harthouse, who... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 10 Mrs. Sparsit remains at the country house, appearing polite to Mr. Bounderby while shaking her fist and calling his port... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 11 Mrs. Sparsit's spying and hopes for Louisa's downfall appear ready to pay off. On Friday Mr. Bounderby is called away on... Read More
Book 2, Chapter 12 Louisa does not meet James Harthouse after his declaration of love. Instead she goes to her father's house, deeply distr... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 1 Louisa wakes up in her old room in her father's house and sees her little sister, Jane. Louisa learns Sissy put her to b... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 2 Tom visits James Harthouse to ask why he never appeared at the station the night before. Harthouse replies only that he ... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 3 Mrs. Sparsit follows Mr. Bounderby to London and tells him about her observations of Louisa and James Harthouse. Mr. Bou... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 4 Investigation of the bank robbery continues, and Slackbridge presents a wanted poster of Stephen Blackpool at the union ... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 5 Sissy visits Rachael every night for news of Stephen, and Rachael begins to wonder if someone has killed him to keep him... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 6 On Sunday Sissy and Rachael go to the countryside to look for any sign of Stephen. Near the edge of a disused coal pit k... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 7 During the activity surrounding Stephen's rescue, Sissy whispers to Tom in the crowd, urging him to escape while he can.... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 8 Mr. Gradgrind attempts to appeal to Bitzer's better nature and allow them to proceed with their plan for Tom, but Bitzer... Read More
Book 3, Chapter 9 Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Bounderby quarrel because he resents her for exposing his mother, and she resents him for marrying ... Read More
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