Hard Times by Charles Dickens Discussion Questions

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Would you like to instruct your high school students on 'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens? The following discussion questions will allow them to dig deeper into hidden meanings and interpretations.

Hard Times

Internet pioneer Vint Cerf once said 'it's the Industrial Revolution and urban concentrations that led to a sense of anonymity.' However, it was over 100 years earlier that Charles Dickens penned Hard Times and warned of the dangers of the dehumanization of industrialization. Your high schoolers will benefit, because these discussion questions will help them analyze and evaluate what is considered a rather complex piece of allegorical literature.

Questions About the Plot - Book The First. Sowing

  • How would you describe the introduction in which the three adults were lecturing the children on the importance of facts?
  • Why did Stephen Blackpool visit Mr. Bounderby for advice, and what was the former informed about his situation?
  • Who did Louisa marry, and in what ways did this change her relationships with other people in her life?

Questions About the Plot - Book The Second. Reaping

  • How would you evaluate the way things changed when handsome stranger James Harthouse arrived in town?
  • Why did Stephen say he was opposed to unions? What became of him because of his stance?
  • How do you analyze the significance of Louisa fainting when she had a nervous breakdown and confessed to her father she almost had an affair with James?

Questions About the Plot - Book The Third. Garnering

  • How would you critique the moment when Louisa decided to return to her dad's home as the climax of the story?
  • What happened when Sissy and Rachael searched for Stephen?
  • What became of Tom, Louisa, and the other residents of Coketown in the resolution of the novel?

Questions About the Themes

  • How would you compare and contrast the concepts of fact versus fancy that repeatedly appeared in the novel?
  • How did the book portray machinery as being more of a masculine trait, while humanity was portrayed as more of a feminine trait?
  • How did some of the characters represent power and wealth, while others represented the lack of power and poverty?
  • How would you compare and contrast the political philosophy of utilitarianism with any of the philosophies of current political parties?
    • Since the world population in 1854 was about one billion and in 2019 is over seven billion, how would utilitarianism benefit or not benefit people in modern times?
  • How did the story deal with the topics of love and marriage, especially as relating to Rachael and Stephen Blackpool?
    • What do you think of the fact it was so difficult for Stephen to get divorced in those days?
  • Which characters showed a high sense of morality and ethics, and which characters showed a low sense of morality and ethics?
    • Did the amount of money and power these individuals possessed have anything to do with the quality of their characters?
      • What are some examples of people in modern times who are rich but have low moral standards, and some people who are poor but have high moral standards?
  • How did the schoolteachers in the novel think an education only involved that which could be learned within the confines of the classroom walls?
    • What happened to the creativity and imagination of the children because they were force-fed facts and not allowed to dream?
  • What was the circus meant to represent throughout the story?
    • What are some positives about a circus and its performers, and what are some of the negatives?

Questions About Symbols

  • How did the Pegasus horse model at the Pegasus Arms Inn represent a make-believe world from which Gradgrind's children were forbidden?
  • How would you envision the 'imaginary staircase' that the jealous and resentful Mrs. Sparsit related to Louisa?
  • How was 'the pit' Stephen fell into a microcosm for the way he had sort of fallen into a 'pit of despair' in his day-to-day life?

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