Hard Times

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Key Facts
full title: Hard Times for These Times

author: Charles Dickens

type of work: Novel

genre: Victorian novel; realist novel; satire; dystopia

language: English

time and place written: 1854, London

date of first publication: Published in serial instalments in Dickens’s magazine Household Words between April 1 and August 12, 1854

publisher: Charles Dickens

narrator: The anonymous narrator serves as a moral authority. By making moral judgments about the characters, the narrator shapes our interpretations of the novel.

point of view: The narrator speaks in the third person and has a limited omniscience. He knows what is going on in all places and at all times, but he sometimes speculates about what the characters might be feeling and thinking, suggesting, at those times, that he does not actually know.

tone: The narrator’s tone varies drastically, but it is frequently ironic, mocking, and even satirical, especially when he describes Bounderby, Harthouse, and Mrs. Sparsit. When describing Stephen and Rachael, his tone is pathetic, evoking sympathy.

tense: The narrative is presented in the past tense; however, at the end, the narrator reveals what the future will bring to each of the main characters.

setting (time): The middle of the nineteenth century

setting (place): Coketown, a manufacturing town in the south of England

protagonist: Louisa Gradgrind

major conflict: Louisa Gradgrind struggles to reconcile the fact-driven self-interest of her upbringing with the warmth of feeling that she witnesses both in Sissy Jupe and developing within herself. As this attitude changes, Louisa is caught between allegiances to her family and loveless marriage and her desire to transcend the emotional and personal detachment of her past.

rising action: Sissy joins the Gradgrind household, and Louisa marries Mr. Bounderby unwillingly, only to satisfy her father’s sense of what would be most rational for her.

climax: Mr. Harthouse joins Gradgrind’s political disciples and attempts to seduce Louisa. Louisa, confused, leaves Bounderby and returns to her father’s house, where she collapses.

falling action: Sissy informs Harthouse that Louisa will never see him again, and Louisa attempts to amend her life by appealing to her father and offering assistance to the alleged perpetrator in Bounderby’s bank robbery.

themes: The mechanization of human beings; the opposition between fact and fancy; the importance of femininity

motifs: Bounderby’s childhood; clocks and time; mismatched marriages

symbols: Staircase; pegasus; fire; smoke serpents

foreshadowing : Stephen’s claim that factory Hands have only death to look forward to foreshadows his own death in the mine shaft. Bitzer’s run-in with Mr. Gradgrind at the circus at the beginning of the novel, when he has been taunting Sissy, foreshadows his run-in with Mr. Gradgrind at the circus at the end of the novel, when Tom is fleeing the country. -------------------------------------------------

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Context
C harles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, and spent the first nine years of his life in Kent, a marshy region by the sea in the southeast of England. Dickens’s father, John, was a kind and likable man, but he was incompetent with money and piled up tremendous debts throughout his life. When Dickens was nine, his family moved to London, and later, when he was twelve, his father was arrested and taken to debtors’ prison. Dickens’s mother moved his seven brothers and sisters into prison with their father but arranged for Charles to live alone outside the prison, working with other children at a nightmarish job in a blacking warehouse, pasting labels on bottles. The three months he spent apart from his family were highly traumatic for Dickens, and his job was miserable—he considered himself too good for it, earning the contempt of...
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