Study Guide

Hard Times Tough-o-Meter

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(6) Tree Line

There are a few things that might make this book a little tough.

Thing one: it's set in Victorian England, so you really have to change your whole point of view to have some of the plot make sense. There is no divorce; sex outside of marriage is about as bad as bank robbery; and finally, workers in factories basically have no rights or protections from the government.

Thing two: Dickens is writing this novel to directly argue against Utilitarianism and the idea of using economic analysis and statistics to create educational and political policy. Which means, of course that you have to brush up a little bit on what Utilitarianism even is in the first place (we'll stop here so you can do that in our "In a Nutshell" section).

Thing three: Dickens was super interested in capturing how people speak, including accents and dialects (lots of those in England – every part of the country has its own way of pronouncing things). Here, Stephen Blackpool's northern working-class speech is written out phonetically, using the kinds of slang that he would use. Sometimes it's hard going trying to figure out what exactly he's saying.

And finally, thing four: Dickens's language is often complex and full of SAT words – so, you know, there will most likely be a dictionary involved in reading this novel.

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