Study Guide

Hard Times Wealth

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Hard Times definitely has a specific view on wealth. In this novel, the gulf between rich and poor is vast and cannot be crossed, despite the myth created by the rich that the poor can lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Those who rise do so at the expense of others, and even then their progress is slow, painful, and does not reach much higher than where they started – and anyone who says otherwise is telling self-serving lies. With wealth come options and opportunities for all sorts of abnormal and deviant behavior. With wealth also comes the privilege of escaping from paying for transgressions, and the chance to start life over fresh.

Questions About Wealth

  1. Wealth allows the rich to buy divorces; it also allows Tom Gradgrind to escape from justice. Are there any positive representations of wealth in the novel? Why or why not?
  2. Sleary's men and Stephen are shown openly handling and discussing money, while Mrs. Sparsit can't even bring herself to call her salary by a non-euphemism (she prefers "annual compliment"). How do other characters relate to money? What does it say about them?
  3. Bounderby is clearly a very successful businessman, running both a bank and a factory. Yet, we never see him at work the way we see almost every character performing their jobs. How does this affect the way we read the novel? What would change if Dickens were to show the immense amount of labor that must go into being an entrepreneur?
  4. Why does Dickens show strivers like Bitzer and capitalists like Bounderby in a negative light, but also seem to be against the unionized and striking workers? What are we to make of the contradiction here?

Chew on This

Dickens does not fully understand the way the production of wealth operates. His disapproval of enterprise and capitalism, and simultaneous rejection of the striking workers, demonstrates his unfamiliarity with these concepts rather than illustrating an alternative system that could be implemented.

The characters who most strongly feel and care about class differences are the ones who suffer least from these differences.

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