Hard Times
Hard Times
by Charles Dickens
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Hard Times Theme of Family

Hard Times expresses the opinion that even an ad hoc, somewhat messily organized family is the best kind of community structure, as long as there's love present. This is shown in the descriptions of Sleary's circus, easily the warmest and most caring of the novel's many groups. In this novel, when families are close emotionally, they provide a moral education that centers on self-sacrifice and altruism. The novel seems to be saying that this is the key to bettering society. On the other hand, when families are ruled by cold logic, they lose emotional connection, and society as a whole becomes totally self-serving.

Questions About Family

  1. Relationships between parents and children are one of the most numerous comparisons in the novel: Tom, Louisa, Thomas Gradgrind, and Mrs. Gradgrind; Sissy and Signor Jupe; Mrs. Pegler and Josiah Bounderby. How are these parent-child relationships similar? How are they different?
  2. How are the circus families portrayed? Does the novel advocate their lifestyle? Why or why not?
  3. What character and personality traits that can you trace through the generations?
  4. Whose childhood is happiest? What makes for a happy childhood in the novel?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The novel advocates undergoing familial trauma and loss in childhood as a way of developing into a morally and emotionally functional adult.

Absent parents have just as much influence over their children as present parents do.

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