Hard Times, the shortest of Dickens’s full-length novels, is set in the fictitious Victorian-England city of Coketown.
The plot centers around the men and women of the town, some of whom are beaten down by the city’s utilitarian ideals and some of whom manage to rise above it.
The novel was written in 1854 and was a scathing attack on then-current ideas of utilitarianism, which Dickens viewed as a selfish and at times oppressive philosophy.
Perhaps the novel’s best features are its clever, ironic narration and the larger-than-life characters that push the plot forward, such as the upper-class banker and hypocritical braggart, Josiah Bounderby, and the fact-driven schoolmaster, Thomas Gradgrind.
Like all Charles Dickens' novels it features some great, memorable characters. The setting of the industrial city of Coketown is vividly described as a miserable, polluted town.
There are some strong themes of class struggles between the working men in the factories and the harsh upper classes who seek to exploit them. Nearly all of the upper class characters are depicted in a negative light while the real heroes of the story are from the working class.
As always, Dickens finds an entertaining way to shine a bright light on the social problems of Victorian-era England.
There is plenty of humor injected throughout the book. Seldom does a chapter pass that you will find yourself not chuckling over the bits of ironic humor and scathing satire the author inserts here and there.
It is a poor, honest man's search for justice in a world where only the rich have merit. It is a girl's search for true love while battling the arranged marriage for money. And lastly, a woman's search for recognition against her favored, yet dishonest brother.
It is these searches that at last come together and become fufilled. And, while at the same time telling a captivating story, it comments on the then--and still now--presence of greed and total dishonesty one has to go through for money.
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