Book I, Chapters 1-2
1. Examine Dickens’ use of repetition in these two chapters, explaining what you think Dickens gains by repeating such words as “hard,” “fact,” “sir,” “square,” and “squarely.”
2. Discuss just what Gradgrind and the others appear to mean by “facts.”
3. Dickens’ position appears to be that teachers who are not so well-prepared as M’Choakumchild, who may indeed have learned less than he has, would make better teachers. That, knowing less, they could teach “infinitely” more. Argue for or against this idea, basing your remarks on a combination of what you have observed in your own teachers and what Dickens tells you about M’Choakumchild and Gradgrind’s school.
Book I, Chapters 3-4
1. Write an analysis of Mr. Gradgrind’s exchange with his daughter in Chapter 3.
2. Comment on Mr. Bounderby’s physical appearance, gestures, and tone of voice and explain what these convey about his personality.
Book I, Chapters 5-6
1. “People mutht be amuthed, Thquire, thomehow.” Discuss how Mr. Sleary’s statement might be said to express Dickens’ own conviction in Hard Times.
2. Compare and contrast Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind’s attitudes and responses to the circus people.
3. Based on what you now know about Sleary’s Horse-Riding and Gradgrind’s establishment, explain why you think Sissy was right or wrong in accepting Gradgrind’s offer.
Book I, Chapter 7
1. Mrs. Sparsit and Mr. Bounderby are both in their own ways proud people who pretend to be humble. Explain how and in what ways.
2. Examine Mr. Gradgrind’s motives for taking Sissy Jupe into his household in the light of what he tells her at Bounderby’s house.
Book I, Chapter 8
1. Discuss the nature of Tom and Louisa’s relationship, basing your remarks on the conversation in this chapter.
2. Discuss Mrs. Gradgrind’s attitude toward her children. What kind of a parent is she? Can Louisa or Tom look to her for support? If not, why not?
Book I, Chapter 9
1. Sissy believes herself to be “O so stupid!” for her answers in class. Actually, they show considerable intelligence of a certain kind. Discuss what kind of intelligence that is, as well as what sort of outlook is revealed by her “mistakes.”
2. Discuss Louisa’s attitude toward Sissy before and after the conversation recorded in this chapter.
Book I, Chapters 10-12
1. Dickens calls Stephen Blackpool a “man of perfect integrity.” First, what do you think this means, and, second, how in these chapters does his integrity manifest itself?
2. Discuss the significance of the imagery Dickens uses to describe the Coketown factories, particularly the image of the “Fairy palace.”
Book I, Chapter 13
1. Chapter 13 is both sentimental and melodramatic, two qualities that are found frequently in Dickens’ work. First, look these words up in the dictionary and explain how the definitions apply to the events in the chapter and the way it is written. (If you don’t think they do, say why not.)
2. State how you think Dickens prepares the way for the climactic emotional intensity of the scene between Stephen and...
(The entire section is 1383 words.)
1. What is the significance of the book’s structure? What does each of its three parts represent? Why are the different sections given agricultural titles when the book is about industrial England?
2. Does Hard Times have a protagonist? Does it have a main character? What makes you think so, and who might the main character be?
3. Hard Times begins and ends with a meeting between Mr. Sleary and Mr. Gradgrind. How are the meetings different? What changes in Mr. Gradgrind’s character and values do we see between his first and last encounter with the circus folk?
4. Discuss the character of Stephen Blackpool. How does he represent the poor Hands in Hard Times? Do you think it is an accurate representation? Is it meant to be?
5. Hard Times is built around a few simple, contrasting thematic ideas. What are some of them, and how do they function in the book? How does Louisa fit among these ideas?
6. As a child, Bitzer is a model pupil at Gradgrind’s school. How does his conduct as a porter at Bounderby’s bank reflect his early education? Would you consider him a “success” according to Gradgrind’s criteria? Why or why not?