Hard Times


Charles Dickens wrote "Hard Times" in monthly instalments in "Household words" in 1854. It describes the life of the citizens in an industrial town whilst covering family values, the education system and the plight of workers. Tom Gradgrind is the eldest son of Mr Gradgrind and through him Dickens shows the impact of a factual childhood.


Tom is first introduced with Louisa in chapter three when they are reprimanded heavily for looking at the "Tyrolean flower act". Gradgrind is "dumb with amazement" at the sight of his "mathematical Thomas abasing himself". Tom immediately gave himself up to be "taken home like a machine" yet Louisa is defensive of their actions showing her to be far more passionate than Tom. She also takes responsibility when her father immediately blames Tom, something which he is only too happy to let her do which is shown later in the book when Louisa "softens up old Bounderby" allowing Tom´s appalling behaviour to be excused. However, Tom does express affection to his sister by using the nickname "Loo" so he has not grown up to be as harsh as Bounderby although he sometimes flatters his sister for his own benefit forcing doubts to his sincerity. Another difference between Louisa and Tom is that she treats her hopeless situation with indifference stating "what does it matter", she is "tired" of life whereas Tom is "sick" of his life hating both it and everybody in it, bar Louisa. He also thinks that everybody hates him, which could account for his selfish attitude, his disrespect and disregard for others and his careless way of life. He also has no self-respect as he refers to himself as a "donkey" and from his "sulky" manner he seems to enjoy wallowing in self-pity. He also speaks of having his "revenge" against facts and he vows to "recompense" himself for his upbringing through a wild lifestyle when he joins Mr Bounderby´s bank. He boasts that he can "manage and smoothe old Bounderby" with the threat of his sister´s disapproval. His plans for freedom seem to backfire however as towards the end of the first book it is implied that without the restrictions of his home life he has become a gambler a "young gentleman of pleasure".


In the second book "Reaping" a year later, Tom´s lifestyle has got the better of him and through Bitzer´s critical eyes he is a "dissipated extravagant idler, not worth his salt". Tom´s slackness and impudence shows the gossip side to both Bitzer and Sparsit as they both enjoys voicing their disapproval´s when really they too should be working, showing even they do not work as hard as the "hands".


Book two also brings about the entrance of James Harthouse who is to have a great impact on Louisa´s life and also Tom´s. Harthouse notices Louisa´s affection for Tom and he uses it to find a way into her heart. Harthouse shows Tom to be a fool, he easily manipulates him as he is taken in by James´s false exterior appearance. He is shown as inexperienced when Harthouse gives him rare "tobacco" and is too busy "admiring his new friend" to realise that he is simply and successfully trying to extract information from him. He refers to Harthouse as a "true friend" and cannot see that he is merely using him to get to Louisa. Tom cannot comprehend that he would call him "the whelp" showing him to be a bad judge of character, easily deceived probably due to his naivety and lack of experience with life. Dickens observes that despite his rigid upbringing of "unnatural restraint" he is a hypocrite incapable of governing himself and as a result of an imagination that was "strangled in his cradle" he has to peruse other sensualities to feel fulfilled. James Harthouse educated in the ways of the world notices this and takes advantage of it. Tom is a good comparison to Harthouse as Tom may have been like him had his education not been so restraining.


Tom´s education along with that of the other Gradgrinds was one of "facts sir; nothing but facts". Tom had never known the "silly jingle" twinkle twinkle little star, and had never seen a "face in the moon" as