Hard Times: Book 2 Chapter 5 - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

      When Bounderby comes to know that Stephen is excommunicated and sent to Coventry, he wishes to meet him in order to fulfill his selfish motive. He thinks that Stephen would give him the information about what is going on between the union leaders. With this motive, Bounderby starts interrogating Stephen sitting with his wife and James Harthouse. He asks him about the activities of union and grievances of workers. But Stephen refuses to be an informer. Though he says that workers are not happy leading the same monotonous, dull life from a very long time.

      On finding Stephen uncooperative, Bounderby starts speaking in a bullying manner. He threatens Stephen to put half a dozen leaders like Slackbridge on trial under the charges of transgression and get them sentenced to transportation for life. Stephen answers ‘muddle’ would remain a muddle even after hundred Slackbridges’ to be transported or drowned into the deep ocean. He also says that employers would get nothing in their confrontation with workers. There should not be any question of victory and defeat between employers and workers. The employers should not treat the workers as arithmetical sums or machine—man without feeling, flesh without soul.

      Bounderby now goes beyond control on seeing Stephen supporting the workers. He says that Stephen is that kind of fellow who creates problem everywhere. Over this point Bounderby dismisses Stephen from his job in the factory. Stephen should leave as soon as he would finish the work that he is undertaking in the factory. Stephen pleads that he would get no other job if he is dismissed from the present one. But Bounderby remains unaffected. Stephen then leaves the sight with saying: “Heaven help us all in this world.”

Critical Analysis

      Stephen’s character is developed in this chapter. He has refused to join the workers union and says that he had given promised to someone not to entangle himself in union affairs and for that matter he is expelled from the worker’s community. Still, he would not play the role of informer for Bounderby, reporting him all the activities of workers because, “they are true to one another, faithful to one another, affectionate to one another even to death.”

      Bounderby is a great imposter and bullying self. He is remarkably contemptuous to workers and he speaks to Stephen in furious manner. He regards union leaders as “rascals”, “rebels” and call Slackbridge a “scoundrel.”

      Though Louisa has not least interrupted in the conversation of Bounderby and Stephen, yet Stephen feels that she is sympathetic towards the workers.

      In the course of answering the questions of Bounderby, he glances at her several times and gives some answers to Louisa. We feel more sympathetic towards Stephen because miseries have clutched him from all the sides. He has been already troubled on account of his unfortunate marriage, and now expelled from the worker’s community and also from the job.

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