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.
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.