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Hard Times

By Charles Dickens (2)

Charles Dickens’s 1854 critique of Utilitarian philosophy, Hard Times examines a world where rigid materialism crushes the human spirit. Set in the northern industrial city, Coketown, the novel follows the fortunes of a cast of characters, including Thomas Gradgrind and his children, Louisa and Tom. Schoolmaster Gradgrind teaches facts, and only facts. There is no room for imagination or fancy in his worldview, so when his children head to Sleary’s touring circus, he is appalled. He catechizes their friend, Sissy, daughter of a circus member, who understands horses, but cannot define them, which ultimately reveals the limits of Gradgrind’s brand of rational thinking. Meanwhile, his own children become alienated from him. Gradgrind and his associate, Bounderby, force Sissy to choose between the circus and school, and she reluctantly leaves the circus. Louisa is sacrificed in marriage to the much older Bounderby, but eventually flees his household. Tom meets a bad end, as does the oppressed laborer, Stephen Blackpool. Only Sissy finds a kind of happiness, while Mr. Gradgrind learns through tragedy to live by faith, hope, and charity, finally understanding the heart triumphs over reason. Dickens’ novels are consistently deemed must-reads, and this literary classic is no exception.

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