1. Did Dickens have a clear purpose in writing Hard Times? Was
Hard Times primarily an exhortation to solve the problems faced
nineteenth-century England, or was his subject matter merely a
vehicle that allowed him to write a humorous story using the
familiar character types of his day? Do you consider Dickens
primarily to be an activist? A social critic? A humor writer?
2. Describe the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind. Why is
Mr. Gradgrind''s philosophy lost on Mrs. Gradgrind? What accounts
for her total lack of understanding?
3. In the first few words of Hard Times, in the title to the
first book, "Sowing," there is a biblical allusion. Hard Times ends
with another biblical allusion in the penultimate paragraph, where
Dickens refers to the "Writing on the Wall." Biblical references
are made throughout the novel, and Christian sentiment is appealed
to constantly. How important are Christian underpinnings to
Dickens''s moral message? Do Dickens''s criticisms and appeals go
beyond the religious? If so, what other moral ideals are put forth
in Hard Times, and what are their implications?
4. Coketown is, of course, a wholly fictitious city. However,
it is a microcosm of England during the time of the Industrial
Revolution and is modeled on cities that existed at the time. What
are the problems of Coketown, and what are the causes of these
problems? As a community, does Coketown accurately or inaccurately
portray the ills of nineteenth-century English industrial cities?
Does the creation of this fictitious town make Dickens''s satire
more effective than if he were to situate it in a real city?
5. Since the conditions of life in English factory towns have
changed, and many years have passed since the writing of Hard
Times, what can be said to be the book''s lasting value? Is it
primarily historical, painting a picture of the way life was at one
time? Is it moral or philosophical? Are the aspects of the novel
that were important at the time of its publication still the ones
that are valued today?
6. Are Rachael and Stephen realistic characters, even in the
context of a satirical novel? What purpose do they serve to the
novel as a whole, and which characters are they most starkly
contrasted with? How does the scene of Stephen''s death stand out
in the novel? How is it important to the overarching themes Dickens
is trying to convey?
From the Trade Paperback edition.