Hard Times Characters

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

'Hard Times', a novel by the most popular writer of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens, examines the social and economic burdens during his time. In this lesson we'll provide further historical context to the novel, as well as highlight the important characters in it.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was one of the most popular writers of the Victorian Period, which spanned the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Dickens experienced a rough childhood, working difficult jobs at a young age, primarily due to his father's large debts. This experience informed his writing throughout his life, which often focused on the disparity between the rich and the poor in England. Not only was Dickens a prolific novelist, but he was also a celebrated public speaker and a leading journalist of the time, founding and editing two influential periodicals.

Hard Times in Context

Hard Times appeared in Dickens's periodical Household Words, meaning that the novel was initially published in parts and his readership had to wait for weekly installments. The novel is also notable for two other reasons. First, it is (comparatively) short. Second, it is the only of Dickens's novels not to feature the city of London prominently. Although many of Dickens's novels left London for periods (most notably in A Tale of Two Cities, in which Paris is the other setting), they always return to the teaming, fascinating, and frustrating urban environment. Hard Times is the exception. It is set in the imaginary city of Coketown, which affords Dickens the ability to make bold commentary on industrial life in Northern England without having to adhere to actual urban layouts.

Hard Times, published in Household Words
Hard Times Serial

Main Characters

Thomas Gradgrind is a wealthy, cold-hearted merchant. He is the father of five children and he raises them through the tenets of strict rationalism: 'A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over.'

Josiah Bounderby is a friend and a business partner to Mr. Gradrind, and marries Gradgrind's daughter Louisa, who is much younger. Dickens's description of Bounderby is worth quoting: 'A man with a great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such a strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open, and lift his eyebrows up. A man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start.'

Louisa Gradgrind is Thomas Gradgrind's daughter and the eventual wife of Bounderby. Their marriage, however, is loveless and unhappy. She is a tragic figure because she is so influenced by her father's tyrannical rules that she cannot be herself.

Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. is the eldest Gradgrind son, who works under Bounderby at a bank. His sister Louisa is a good influence on him, but ultimately he succumbs to the lure of money. He robs the bank and implicates Stephen Blackpool for the crime.

Stephen Blackpool is a poor laborer at Bounderby's factory. He loves a kind and honest woman named Rachael, but cannot pursue the relationship because he is already married to a drunk, abusive woman. Stephen remains steadfast in his morals even through great suffering. For example, while attempting to clear his name over the bank robbery, he falls down a mine shaft.

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