Introduction to Hard Times

2041 Words May 13th, 2001 9 Pages
The shortest of Dickens' novels, Hard Times, was also, until quite recently, the least regarded of them. The comedy is savagely and scornfully sardonic, to the virtual exclusion of the humour - that delighted apprehension of and rejoicing in idiosyncrasy and absurdity for their own sakes, which often cuts right across moral considerations and which we normally take for granted in Dickens. Then, too, the novel is curiously skeletal. There are four separate plots, or at least four separate centres of interest: the re-education through suffering of Mr. Gradgrind, the exposure of Bounderby, the life and death of Stephen Blackpool, and the story of Sissy Jupe.

There are present, in other words, all the potentialities of an expansive,
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Thus when Thomas finally confesses to the bank robbery, his defence is unanswerable, at any rate by Gradgrind. "'So many people are employed in situations of trust; so many people, out of so many, will be dishonest. I have heard you talk, a hundred times, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things, father. Comfort yourself!'" The point is capped and underscored in the chapter that follows, when Mr. Gradgrind pleads with Bitzer, who has Tom's fate in his hands. "'Bitzer, have you a heart?'" But Bitzer, the logical end of Mr. Gradgrind's system, its reductio ad absurdum, replies with the literal, scientific answer. Then:

"If this is solely a question at self-interest with you - "Mr. Gradgrind began.
"I beg your pardon far interrupting you, Sir," returned Bitzer; "but I am sure that you know that the whole social system is a question of self- interest. What you must always appeal to, is a person's self-interest. It's your only hold. We are so constituted. I was brought up in that catechism when I was very young, sir, as you are aware."

"What sum of money," said Mr. Gradgrind, "will you set against your expected promotion?"

"Thank you, sir," returned Bitzer, "for hinting at the proposal; but I will not set any sum against it. Knowing that your clear head would propose that alternative, I have gone over the calculations in my mind; and I find that to

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