In Hard Times, the key moral attributes that the villains lack are empathy, generosity, and altruism. For Dickens, these are the foundation of human relationships. There is no getting around them with any other quality, however positive. Those who possess these qualities are much better equipped to handle the world, however hostile it may be. Those who lack these basic ways to connect to other people are doomed to a lonely and miserable existence.
Questions About Morality and Ethics
- Statistics is used as tool of surveillance in the novel, trying to police the behavior of the workers and to evaluate their morality (religious observance, drinking habits, etc.), and we are meant to find this practice unsavory. Compare it to the way the narrator analyzes the behavior of the men assembled at the unionization meeting. How are the two different? The same?
- Does Bounderby think of himself as an ethical person? What about Louisa? Stephen?
- Which characters' morals change during the course of the novel? How and under what influence?
- How important is Christianity to the novel's moral message? Are there other moral ideals put forth in Hard Times besides Biblical ones?
Chew on This
In the novel, the propensity toward moral behavior is inborn. It can neither be taught to someone who was not born with it, nor can it be untaught if already present in a person.
No one has the moral upper hand in the novel because even the most pure characters either have the desire to commit an unspeakable and selfish acts or have allowed highly unethical behavior to go on without any attempt to stop it.