Hard Times: Book 1 Chapter 12 - Summary & Analysis

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The Old Woman


      Stephen is walking sadly and he feels a touch upon his arm. This is an old woman’s hand. She is tall and well-shaped though time has withered her beauty. She is neatly dressed but her shoes are smeared in mud. It seems she has come from a long journey. The woman asks Stephen about the owner of the house from which he has just come out and if the owner is doing well. Stephen says that he is perfectly alright and having his lunch with great appetite. The woman says that she has covered forty miles in order to come to this place and has to cover same distance on her way back to home. She says that she comes here every year in order to have a look of the gentleman—the owner of that house. When she comes to know that for a dozen years Stephen had worked in the gentlemen’s factory, she kisses Stephen’s hand who had worked in that fine factory for such a long time.

      After that Stephen walks homeward thinking about his unhappy marriage and his inability to get rid of his wife and marry Rachael.

Critical Analysis

      In this chapter, one more new character is introduced. The mysterious old woman who meets Stephen and who comes every year to see Bounderby seems to have some sentimental relationship with him. We become curious to know why does she come every year in order to just have a look of Bounderby.

      The last passage of the chapter is replete with Stephen’s profound feelings of frustration and despondency in life. We move to pity because his wife has made his life a hell but he is unable to get rid of her. He thus can not marry Rachael who is a great source of relief to him.

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