Table of Contents

Hard Times (Analysis)

“I love you, you love me, we’re all one big family.” This horrifying tune by the ever famous purple and green dinosaur is implanted into every child’s head from the moment she is old enough to watch television. Adults often laugh at the silliness of singing about familial love to a toddler, but exposing children to love at a young age is extremely crucial, even if it must be in the form of Barney and Friends. If the child doesn’t understand the importance of love from the very beginning, then it will be very hard to her to not only understand love at the later stages in life, but also to love others. In Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times, the Gradgrind family decides to throw love completely out of the window in favor of raising their children on facts alone, as Sissy Jupe remains emotionally healthy due to an early exposure to loving family environments. Love, both the presence and absence of it, cause the children two develop in two completely different ways. When families are emotionally close and nurture love, the children become altruistic and loving towards others, but when families deny love in favor of cold hard logic, the children will become emotionally detached, self-serving, and incapable of healthy and fulfilling relationships.

Although Sleary’s circus is chaotic and unorganized, it was still the best community for a child to grow up it, because it provided Sissy with an emotionally close and loving family environment. Because Sissy was nurtured and provided with love and affection from her early childhood, she in turn became the most emotionally healthy and altruistic character in the novel. Although she is not related to most of the people in Sleary’s circus, she shares a strong emotional bond with all of the circus members. When she leaves for Gradgrind’s home, the circus members “pressed about her and bent over her in very natural attitudes, kissing and embracing her, and brought the children to take leave of her” (46). Sissy’s familiar environment of the circus is full warmth and love, which allows her to learn how to love others at an early age. The love that Sissy believed Signor Jupe has for her leaves a lasting impression on her, and provides her with a constant source of affection even when she is in the loveless environment in the Gradgrind household. When given the choice of either staying with the loving circus family or going away with Gradgrind, she chooses the latter because she knew that “her father always had it in his head. . . that she was to be taught the deuce-and-all of education” (40). Signor Jupe clearly believed that Sissy’s life would be much better at school instead of with him, so he “broke hith own heart alone, rather than pull her down along with him” (294). The belief that her father left her for her own good propels Sissy to leave the comforts of her circus family and step out into the unknown territory that is Gradgrind’s household. The bond between Sissy and her father last throughout the whole entire book, as she consistently keeps the bottle of nine oils for her, preparing for the day she can finally reunite with her father.

The loving environment that Sissy grew up in prepared her emotionally to be able to love and sacrifice herself for her new family. Her positive influence on the Gradgrind household is obvious, as Jane manages to become the most normal one of the Gradgrind children, due to spending more time with Sissy than she did with Mr. Gradgrind. Sissy is also the first person who Louisa truly opens up her feelings to, and welcomes her with open arms despite the fact that Louisa had been so cold to Sissy throughout most of the book. She tells Louisa that “I have always loved you, and have always wished that you should know it”, and is simply glad that Louisa is finally able to come to terms with her own emotions. Not only does she love Louisa unconditionally, but she is also willing to risk her own safety by confronting Harthouse alone, because she loves Louisa. When Harthouse asks how Sissy could possibly know whether or not Louisa would even want to be rid of Harthouse, she replies that she has “only the commission of my love for her, and her love for me” (236). The love she has for Louisa drives her to risk her own safety in order to protect Louisa’s emotions, and to ask Harthouse to leave both the Gradgrinds and Coketown alone forever. Sissy’s love and strong sense of righteousness touches even Harthouse, who is both shocked and shamed by her sincere honesty. He admits to Sissy that had anyone else tried to tell him her exact words, he would have probably would have laughed in his face and refused to listen, but for her, he was willing to leave. This strong love that was nurtured within Sissy since childhood allowed her become fearless, and protect the honor of her dear Louisa.

Even though Mr. Gradgrind loved all of his children, he ended up depriving them of love because he relied on his educational system and Mrs. Gradgrind to raise them on solely cold hard facts. He detached himself from his children and focused only on his work, while “time, with his innumerable horse-power, worked away, not minding what anybody said, and presently turned out young Thomas a foot taller than when his father had last taken particular notice of him” (95). In Hard Times, Dickens seems to clearly support femininity, but uses Mrs. Gradgrind to state that it’s still important for a woman to retain some of her own independence in order to properly raise her children with love. Mrs. Gradgrind, instead of teaching her children about moral values and loving other altruistically, weakly follows Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy of teaching the children based on facts alone, and refrains herself from actually showing affection to Louisa and Tom. However, both parents dearly love their children, but simply do not know how to express it. Mr. Gradgrind expresses remorse when Louisa blames him for causing her to be emotionally unhealthy, while Mrs. Gradgrind expresses regret on her deathbed for not teaching her children that “there is something – not an ology at all – that [their] father has missed” (203). Because both parents had been extremely detached from their Children, both Louisa and Tom were denied parental love from the early childhood stages, both of them have an extremely difficult time gaining a proper grasp on human emotions throughout rest of the book.

Tom’s loveless childhood caused him to become self-serving rather than altruistic, and he uses his loved ones for his own gains. The environment that Tom was raised in is essentially the opposite of that of Sissy’s, causing his personality and the way he treats the people around him to be completely different. Unlike Sissy, he is completely selfish, and unable to connect with his family members or even his own emotions. Throughout the nearly the entire book, Tom only sees people as ways to promote his lazy lifestyle, and is unable to realize his faults. He feels zero guilt for essentially pimping out his own sister to Bounderby in order to support his gambling habits, since he justifies his selfish actions by believing that it’s Louisa’s simple womanly duty to enable him. Tom’s selfishness causes him to go so far as leave Louisa completely vulnerable to Harthouse when he confesses everything to him in order to seem cool in front of Harthouse. If Tom knew the emotional damage that he set his sister up for through his casual conversation with Harthouse, he “might have gone down to the ill-smelling river that was dyed black, might have gone to bed in it for good and all, and have curtained his head forever with its filthy waters” (143). As the story progresses, Tom begins to slowly realize that perhaps he is at fault when Louisa questions him about the bank robbery, but he is so emotionally detached that he cannot bring himself to admit his faults to his sister, and instead cries into his pillow when she leaves, most likely out of shame. At the circus, Tom finally realizes his betrayal of Louisa, but cannot come to terms with his own guilt because his parents never taught him to deal with his own emotions. Instead, he makes sarcastic remarks about her “pretty love”, and continues to lash out at her (287). He finally truly realizes his faults and decides to accept his wrongs and guilt when he is abroad, but dies on the trip back, forever longing for Louisa’s face and forgiveness.

Louisa is an even more tragic result of a love and affection-free childhood, since she realizes from early on that there is something emotionally wrong with her, but is doomed to suffer through this emptiness for the rest of her life. In the beginning of the book, Louisa realizes that the relationship she has with her father is abnormal, and longs for more emotional closeness when she questions Sissy about Signore Jupe. She asks Sissy whether or not her father loved her “with a strong, wild, wandering interest peculiar to her; an interest gone astray like a banished creature and hiding in solitary places”, in order to get a better idea of what could be missing from her own relationship with Mr. Gradgrind (64). Unlike Tom, she is not self-serving, but is tragically unable to understand emotions and unable to connect with those around her. When her father asks her to marry Mr. Bounderby, Louisa finally shows a glimmer of hope as she strains “throw herself upon his breast, and give him the pent-up confidences of her heart” (104). Unfortunately, she has become so far entrenched in her emotionless state that she simply cannot reach out to Mr. Gradgrind, so she simply shrinks back into her shell, and numbly agrees to her father’s bidding. The only person she truly loves throughout the entire book is Tom, because he was the only person who connected with her on a level other than facts during her childhood, but he ends up only using her for her feelings. Because her parents had never taught her how to love, Louisa ends up enabling her brother by giving him everything he wants, as she is afraid of losing the only person she had connected with.

When Louisa does come around to getting in touch with her emotions, it has already become far too late for her to be able to truly love others. She confesses to her father that because he had taught her with only facts and denied her love and affection, she is now devoid of normal human emotions and cannot operate normally on an emotional level. Louisa takes her recovery a step further when she begs Sissy to “have compassion on my great need and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart”, and finally admits that she too, needs to be love and be loved (231). Thankfully, Louisa finally realizes that she does have some self worth when she sees Tom again, and is willing to forgive him for hurting her so much. Despite all that he has done to her, she cries for him and knows that he will one day Tom will be able to realize his faults, because she is driven by an instinct to love her own brother with all of her heart. However, after having a childhood completely devoid of love and affection and being used by her own brother and Harthouse, Louisa has become so emotionally damaged that she can no longer love. At the end of the book, she ends up lonely and dejected, never to fall in love or have children of her own, as “such a thing was never to be” (299). She will finally experience being loved because Sissy’s children will all adore her, and she will teach them about fancy. However, she teaches them because it was “simply a duty to be done” so that they may turn out more emotionally happy than she is, but she is never able to truly able to love others (299).

Humans, especially at a very young age, are always in constant need to both give and receive love from others. When love is present and nurtured at a very early age, like in the case of Sissy Jupe, the child will in turn be able to spread the love to others, and achieve true happiness. However, when love is denied to the child and withers, as it did for both Tom and Louisa, it will lead to extremely tragic results, causing the child to be self-serving, emotionally detached, and incapable of ever having a truly happy relationship. This seemingly basic emotion is essential on so many levels, and is often needed almost as much as basic nutrition.

Perhaps, love is the one true emotion that causes all human beings to function properly, and is what makes humans well, human.


Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

QR Code
QR Code hard_times_analysis (generated for current page)