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Hard Times

Hard Times


Themes

Paradoxically, in Hard Times, play and pleasure turn out to be a kind of work that is just as difficult as factory labor. No job is more physically demanding than that of the circus performers, who are bruised and beaten daily in order to create an imaginative release for the otherwise mundane lives of their audience. The novel's takeaway message is repeated by Mr. Sleary, the circus master: "the people must be amused" if they are to remain human. If this impulse toward what Dickens calls "fancy" is ignored, it transforms into harmful self-justification, destructive myth-making, and unethical deception.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Creativity and the Imagination

  1. The two works that are most frequently referenced in the novel are The Arabian Nights (a collection of near-Eastern fairy tales) and the Bible. Find some instances where each is referenced. Is one brought up with a different tone than the other? Are they used in different kind of situations?
  2. Why does the narrator have his own pseudo-imagination, every now and again imagining what could have happened if the characters were acting differently?
  3. Who is the most creative character? Who is the least creative? Are your answers surprising?
  4. There are several scenes of characters reading to each other – Sissy reads fairy tales to her father, for example. Are there other examples you can think of? How is reading aloud and reading socially used in the novel?

Chew on This

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

Despite the narrator's insistence otherwise, the plot of Hard Times actually demonstrates that there is no inherent connection between emotional awareness and the ability to live a moral life.

The characters who value facts the most are the least plainspoken – they use analogies, metaphors, and overstatements to communicate. The more they are exposed to "fancy" and are able to accept the imagination as a necessary component of life, the more down to earth and straightforward their speech becomes.

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