Plot Structure of The Novel Hard Times

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The Brilliantly organized Plot of Hard Times

      Various modern critics have highly praised Hard Times for its compact and organized structure. It has been regarded, “a brilliantly plotted novel.” The action in Hard Times proceeds with sense of single-mindedness and concentrated energy which is almost matchless in Dickens. When we read the story we feel lost by a sense of inevitability Dickens here comes out as an adept craftsman and this novel displays a sense of technique, that is possessed by no other novels of Dickens even Great Expectations also. Hard Times is a superbly compact novel, divorced off all digressions, unnecessary details, comic scenes that Dickens often introduces in most of his novels to add to the comic effect. The novel is so congruous and subtly built that it gives no space to irrelevant matter or for any matter linked with the chief action only flimsily.

The Chief Action revolves around Mr. Gradgrind

      There are three distinct plot sequences in Hard Times. The principal action revolves around Mr. Gradgrind who may be remarked as Mr. Utilitarian. Mr. Utilitarian is 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 more.” Gradgrind speaks arithmetically giving no way to the tender emotions to enter. He is utterly practical and conducts all the business life in a practical way because this is the way to rise, to make money and to become economically and socially successful according to the standards of Victorian age. He worships the God of cash-payment, and he rears up his children according to the philosophy The development of the story shows how this utilitarian principle functions its role. Louisa, Tom, and Sissy are connected with the main action of the story Louisa’s marriage with the capitalist Bounderby proves destructive failure. Dickens presents his heroine at the edge of surrendering to the allurement given by Harthouse and eloping with him, but skilfully she overcomes that at the last moment. The disaster of her life is full-fledged; her father Gradgrind’s doctrine has so influenced her that she fails to sort out her personal emotional matters. Tom’s life is also destroyed. He starts getting involved in gambling and in order to pay his debts, he has to rob the bank of his brother-in-law Bounderby where he is employed. Very shrewdly and tactfully he makes very innocent and hard worker Stephen to fall as a victim and he is blamed as a guilty. Finally the innocence of Stephen is established, and Tom has to rush, to a foreign place in order to rescue from the consequences of law Sissy as a character in a moral play explains ideas that fare diametrically contrary to the utilitarian theory taught at the model school of Gradgrind, a principle that she cannot put into practice. She plays a vital role in the story of the family of Gradgrind being too co-operative, kind to all other members.

The Second Part of the Action revolves around Mr. Bounderby

      The second part of the action concentrates on Mr. Bounderby, a stone-hearted and devilish banker and manufacturer. Mr. Bounderby is an embodiment of utilitarian principle particularly in the business and trade. He is also an accurate representative of the theory of Laissez-faire. His attitude towards ‘hands’ in his trade-mill is motivated by the desire to extract utmost possible profit from their industrious work. He considers the modest requirements of his factory workers as a demand for turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. His so-called relation with his mother is evident that he is entirely devoid off human sentiments. The same callous and cold attitude is evident in his relation with wife Louisa and this is the cause why she feels weakness for her lover James Harthouse who is another symbol of utilitarianism. Bounderby also has a part in the sub-plot based upon his relation with Mrs. Sparsit his housekeeper who represents the hollowness, hypocrisy snobbery deceitfulness of the Victorian high class.

The Third Part of the Action concentrates on Stephen and Rachael

      The third part of the action concentrates on Stephen Blackpool, a hand in Bounderb’s trade-mill. Stephen’s married life has been made horrible and unbearable to him because of his wife who has become a drunkard sinister lady He is now in love with another woman Rachael and wishes to divorce his wife but, finding it improbable to do so, he lives in a constant state of tension and frustration. Rachael does her best to console him and ease him. As Stephen has become the victim of Tom’s scheme in robbing the bank, here he is linked with the Gradgrind’s story Stephen refuses to join the workers’ trade union and consequently sent to Coventry At the same time he refases to act as a spy against the union and is dismissed from his job by his employer Bounderby. Eventually he falls into a chasm when is coming back to Coketown in order to explain himself that he is innocent and he has not robbed the bank of Bounderby.

Various Themes are Interwoven

      These three plots express Dickens’ design of developing and proceeding his action around his thesis. The thesis itself is more vast than to be confined into passionate attack on utilitarianism and laissez-faire, since it also consists in the satire on the educational system (through Gradgrind’s stress on facts and statistics and his entire desertion of fancy and emotion), criticism of the class distinction (with the help of Mrs. Sparsit’s character), and attack on the divorce law (through Stephen’s disability to divorce his drunken wife). From the angle of examining the structure, Hard Times has no weakness, everything is well knitted with the moral pattern that constitutes its form.

Two Different Co-Existent Points in the Novel

      There are two distinguished co-existent element in the novel, a realistic mode of presentation and a Christian-cum-smythical mode. In the realistic mode the fore-ground is filled primarily with Louisa and Gradgrind; in the other the two noble moral characters are Sissy and Stephen, though Rachael can not be avoided; Mrs. Sparsit and Bounderby are linked with both. Mr. Sparsit exists mainly in the realistic mode because of her satisfying inner monologue and integrity while Bounderby is immortal thus falls in the second mode.

Remaining Structural Qualities

      The most remarkable future of the structure of Hard Times is economy of expression. Dickens artistic weaknesses as seen in the novel, for example, various sub-plots, much melodrama, focus that keeps on shifting; are not seen in Hard Times. Preventing himself from being sentimental in the scenes where Sissy shows her affection for Louisa and where Stephen’s plight is dealt with, Hard Times is entirely free from flaws. The theme is apparent, and the message of the book is moral and direct. The message given to the readers is that the heart is more important than the mind. The core of goodness exists in the service to others and in being co-operative, kind and sympathetic to others in pain and misery The principle of facts and mill which go reverse to the development of Christian feeling in the individual are laid bare and ironically satirized.

Immature Contrasts and Choppy Business

      The structure of Hard Times is criticized for its imperfection. A critic named Earle Davis, for example, indicates that Dickens here does not find enough scope for complete development of his opposite plot-sequences. The author also had problem in concentrating all his narrative technical resources on his theme. The consequence is that the novel sometimes presents the choppy scenes, undeveloped contrasts and somewhat unfinished business.

Want of Impetus behind Stephen’s Refusal to join the Trade Union

      There are few flaws in plot-construction. One of the most striking flaws is the want of sufficient motivation behind Stephen’s refusal to join the trade union. Stephen’s true and deep sympathy for the worker’s lot is completely brought out in the scene in which he is interviewed by Bounderby who wanted to use him as an informer; to tell him the internal activities of the union workers. But he denies to do that. The reader fails to understand what problem he had in joining the union. Normally a person of this kind would be more talkative in declaring the worker’s problems and miseries but Stephen refuses to go against the trade union, the sole reason that is given might be that he had promised someone (indeed, to Rachael) that he would not join the union and not further entangle his life in union activities because it would lead to nowhere. Both these reasons are not appropriate to satisfy readers.

The Undeveloped Industrial Conflict

      Another drawback is that industrial conflict is not sufficiently drawn. It is only hinted. Without viewing the matter deeply or the unconvincing portraiture of the union leader; Slackbridge, we can not assist feeling that the clash between the employers and employees should at least have led to a kind of vis-a-vis showing either the worthlessness of such conflict or offering a kind of solution, however partial or impartial, to the problems of industry All these are encompassed into a single chapter.

The Development of Louisa-Harthouse Affair; not Hinted

      Another glaring feature of the novel is Dickens failure to present us any development in the relation of Louisa and Harthouse. Louisa remains an enigma to us and her lover James Harthouse who is trying to entrust himself upon her attention. Louisa’s relation with Harthouse is nowhere interpreted in any special terms. It is an amazing development when we find Louisa getting out of her house and catching the train for Coketown, finally bursting out emotionally into her father’s presence. Another novelist, or even Dickens himself in another novel, would have described Louisa. Harthouse’s relation with Louisa in detail is given to us as a record of inner conflict of Louisa’s mind. This also could have been confined into a single chapter contributing to the psychological feature of the book. As it is, Mrs. Sparsit’s mind has been described to us in detail while the account of the inner happening of Louisa is not given anywhere except when she reaches her father’s house and confides everything in him.

The Stephen-Rachael Affair is not properly woven into the Main Action

      A.H. Gomme has criticized the relation between Stephen and Rachael for not being closely knitted with the main action. It has been told that Dickens wanted to twist our arm by implying this Particular sub-plot.

Another Demerits

      Another flaw of the novel is Louisa’s utter passiveness under all circumstances of life after getting married with Bounderby Louisa does not least protested or told anything to her husband when he ill-treats Stephen and finally dismisses him in an irrational and whimsical manner. She goes privately to visit Stephen with Tom in his lodging in order to express her sympathy and offer him financial aid. This visit has been handled by the novelist only to make Tom able to call Stephen to the bank twice according to his ill-plot. And through this act Stephen falls under suspicion of commiting robbery at the bank of Bounderby It is really unsatisfying why Louisa has not defended Stephen in front of her husband even in privacy However, we should not avoid it that Louisa is overall depicted as a proud and reserved lady as one who is not intimate with her husband.

University Questions

Comment on the structure and plot of Hard Times,
Or
Elaborate the following dictum: “Of all Dickens’ works, Hard Times is the one that has all the strength of his genius.
Or
Dickens’ handling of plot is par-excellence in spite of few flaws. Give your arguments with references to Hard Times.

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