Humanities 221
Some background and study questions for Hard Times

Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principles of Population (1798): poverty is natural, so government subsidy programs only keep people alive and maintain higher populations, thus increasing poverty.

David Ricardo, "The Iron Law of Wages": as population increases, wages decrease; increased wages encourage people to have more children, so the number of workers increases and wages go down

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (1776): laissez faire economics; no government interference; division of labor moves workers away from artisan, craftsmen jobs into factory production.

Which of these distinguished economists get honored by Mr. Gradgrind in the naming of his sons?


1. What sets of oppositions do you find in the opening chapters of Hard Times? For example, "fact" and "imagination." What is "industry" contrasted with? What are fairy stories contrasted with? What else?

2. What kind of an education do the children at Mr. Gradgrind's school receive? What kind of an education does their teacher have? Why don't the Gradgrind children attend this school?

3. Why does Dickens describe the industry in Coketown with animal metaphors? Why are the factories described as "fairy palaces"?

4. How is "old family" vs. "new money" depicted in Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Bounderby?

5. Why doesn't Sissy understand Political Economy?

6- Why are the workers referred to as "hands"?

7. Why can't Stephen Blackpool divorce his wife?

8. Why does Louisa agree to marry Bounderby? What is their honeymoon like?


I - What kind of working conditions are implied by the capitalists' complaints that open Book 2?

2. What kind of morality does Bitzer exhibit?

3. Why does James Harthouse come to Coketown?

4. How pleasant is it to have dinner with Bounderby?

5. What kind of morality does young Tom Gradgrind exhibit?

6. How does the union leader, Slackbridge, treat Stephen Blackpool? Why does this initially delight Bounderby? Why doesn't Bounderby stay happy?

7. What does Louisa learn by visiting Stephen?

8. Why does Harthouse want to seduce Louisa? Why should Louisa be interested in him?

9. Why is suspicion for the bank robbery thrown toward Stephen?

10. What is the unspoken conflict between Mrs. Sparsit and Bounderby?

11. What does Mrs. Gradgrind learn on her deathbed? How does Mr. Gradgrind attend to her funeral?

12- What does "Mrs. Sparsit's Staircase" mean, metaphorically?

13. Why doesn't Louisa consummate her affair with Harthouse?


1. What enables Sissy to take charge now?

2. What does it mean when Bounderby associates Louisa with the Hands?

3. Why did Bounderby lie about his background?

4. What has Stephen learned about the status of the working class when he is finally found?

5. What is ironic about Tom's escape and Mr. Gradgrind's indebtedness?