Power comes in several forms in Hard Times. On the one hand, the numerous factory workers represent a tremendous force, both in terms of their ability to operate machinery and produce goods, and in their ability to band together to form a union and go on strike. On the other hand, in their collective form they are viewed by their employers as disposable and almost non-human. This is made evident in the term "Hands," which reduces them to a single, non-thinking, non-emotional body part. The workers are patronized by the government and by ostensibly charitable organizations that study, analyze, and criticize their drinking, church-going, parenting, and any other quantifiable behavior.
Questions About Power
- Compare descriptions of factory owners as a group to factory workers as a group. How is the narrator's approach the same? How is it different?
- We are only shown one businessman and only one worker up close, and they are both rather extreme representations of goodness and evil. Does such a stark contrast work on the reader? What would have been different if Dickens were a little more evenhanded (like other novelists of his time frequently were)?
- The owners think of the machinery in the factories as being run by "Hands." The narrator describes the machinery being run by magic inside "Fairy Palaces." Both descriptions do not humanize the workers, but readers are meant to view one negatively and the other not. Is this fair? Why or why not?
- Are there any relationships between equals in the whole novel or does every relationship demonstrate some kind of power imbalance? What do you make of that?
Chew on This
The novel is deeply committed to a passive resistance strategy. No weak character is ever shown overcoming an obstacle through gathering strength; instead, if he/she prevails, it is only through the interference of others, luck, or turning the other cheek.
The main way the novel demonstrates power is in the brutal, non-subtle way it hammers home its ideas. There is no one more powerful than the narrator, and no one weaker than the reader who cannot help but go along with the stark presentation of characters and plot.