The setting of the novel is the imaginary industrial city of Coketown.
Thomas Gradgrind is one of the character: he is an educator who has founded a school where he taught his theories; his two children also went to his school, their name are Louisa and Tom. both with his students and with his children, Thomas through the use of his school methods, repressed in every way children’s imagination and feelings.
He marries his daughter to Josiah Bounderby: he was a rich banker, but he also was 30 years older than Louisa. The girl accepts the marriage in order to help his brother, who is given a job in Bounderby’s bank, although Louisa was totally unhappy.
But Tom is lazy and selfish and so he decided to rob the employer; at first he isn’t accused, but then he is finally discovered and so he has to leave the country.
The book is divided in three sections, and each sections is divided in three separate chapters:
the second section, Reaping, reveals the harvesting of these seeds, as Louisa’s unhappy marriage and Tom’s criminal ways;
the third section, Garnering, gives all the details.
The entire work focuses on the difference between the rich and poor, also factors owners and workers, who were forced to work long hours for low pay in dangerous factories.
Workers lacked of education, so they had few options in order to improve their terrible living and working conditions.
This novel so wants to denounce the gap between the rich and poor and also Dickens wanted to criticize the materialism and all the features of the Victorian society.
Hard Times suggests how the England of the 19th century wanted to turn human beings into machines by avoiding their emotions and imaginations. This is not only made by Gradgrind, but also by Bounderby, since he treats his factory workers as emotionless objects.
Mr Gradgrind believes that everything is ruled and controlled by rational rules; in fact, in his school he wants to turn children into little machines that act by following these rules.
Dickens’ aim, in this novel, is to show the dangers of allowing humans to become like machines.