Stephen Blackpool: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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Stephen’s Physical Appearance

      Dickens despribes Stephen Blackpool as a “rather stooping man with a knitted brow, a pondering expression of face, and a hard-looking head heavy long and thin irony-great hair on it.” Though he is about forty years old yet looks older. Sufferings and miseries of his life have left their marks on his outward appearance. He is commonly called “Old Stephen”.

His Integrity, Efficiency and Steadfastness

      Stephen is neither extraordinarily intelligent, nor occupies any rank of importance among the workers. He lacks the skill of delivering speeches and participating in debates. But he is a man of perfect integrity and is a nice power loom weaver. Even Bounderby who is contemptuous towards his workers, regards Stephen as a “steady hand”.

His Unhappy Marriage

      The greatest misfortune of Stephen’s life is his unhappy Carriage. He happened to marry a lady who is not of his own temperament. They are utterly matchless. He tells his grief to Bounderby and asks him how to come out of this chaos. He says to Bounderby that he got married about nineteen years ago and at that time she was a young and beautiful lady, but she turned bad very soon. She started having large amount of liquor, did not work, sold the furniture, pawned clothes and made a frequent vexation of herself to him. He tried his best to amend her but he had not succeeded. Still, she keeps on claiming her rights as a wife, visiting him sometimes and using indecent language to him. In fact, his domestic life has been a constant source of agony and torture to him. Here, Stephen’s history of life as revealed to Bounderby arouses our deep sympathy though Bounderby remains completely uneffected.

Stephen’s Life, “A muddle”

      When Stephen asks Bounderby about the way to get rid of his wife in order to make his life less painful and agonized; Bounderby replies that the process of being completely and legally separated from his wife is very expensive and the man of his rank should not even think about getting help through that process. Thus Stephen’s unfortunate marriage has made him to consider life as a “muddle”. In fact, for him “all is muddle” because his approach to everything is very much pessimistic. He sees everything with a dark specs. Whenever, he confronts any difficult or complicated situation, he calls that a “muddle”.

Stephen’s Views about Worker’s Union

      All the workmen are hostile towards Stephen because he has refused to join the union. He tells Bounderby that he has promised someone not to be involved in Union affairs in order to not to vex his life more. Actually he has given promise to Rachael who told him not to entangle himself in the Union’s activities because she knows his mental disposition. The workers are of the opinion that Stephen does not realize the hardships of workmen which they have to face. When Bounderby calls him with the intention to use him as an informer and extract informations about worker’s activities Stephen boldly and roughly refuses to act according to his will. He is not in. favor of opposing the aims of union but its methods. He tells Bounderby about the requirements, aspirations and desires of workers, he tries his best to draw his employer’s attention to the problems of workers but he fails to arise even least sympathy in Bounderby. Bounderby gets angry on his refusal to give required informations about worker’s activities, he dismisses him instantly. When Stephen pleads to him that he will not be able to get another job, Bounderby tells him that he creates trouble for everybody around him.

Victim of Tom’s Strategy

      Stephen is a very simple and honest kind of man. Tom Gradgrind has planned to use him in his intrigue. He tells him that if he (Stephen) wanders close to the building of Bounder by’s bank for two or three evenings, he would come to meet him and give him some, important message of his advantage. Thus Stephen falls in his trap. He is seen around the bank building for three days and after the bank is robbed, everybody suspects him as a guilty.

Stephen is “Sent to Coventry”

      After the dismissal from job and roaming close to the bank building for two or three days, Stephen feels compelled to leave, Coketown. He bids farewell to Rachael with heavy heart who too is greatly troubled at the mishappenings in Stephen’s life. Thus a most faithful workman with good record at the factory has been sent to Coventry by the union on one hand, and dismissed by employer on the other.

The Parting Episode of Stephen and Rachael

      The episode of Stephen and Rachael’s parting is very heart rendering. The following passage deserves to be given here. “It was but a hurried parting in a common street, yet it was a sacred remembrance to these two common people. Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, commissioners of fact, genteel and used up infidels, the poor you will have always with you. Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the utmost graces of the fancies and affections to adorn their lives so much in need of ornament, or in the day of your triumph, when romance is utterly driven out of their souls, and a bare existence stands face to face, reality will take a wolfish turn and make an end of you.”

      These lines express Dickens’ resent on those narrow-minded thinkers who do not consider such relation sacred between noble minded persons like Rachael and Stephen.

Ultimately Pure and Innocent

      Rachael feels disappointed when Stephen does not turn up and in this way Rachael’s confidence in Stephen’s integrity meet no end. Now she begins to suspect that true culprit must have killed Stephen out of the fear of being exposed. It is just Fortune that takes Rachael and Sissy to the point where they get the crushed hat of Stephen and discover a chasm in which Stephen might befallen. Stephen is found in such a miserable condition that any recovery from that state seems impossible. Here Rachael feels such grief that is beyond the limits of words to express. This time Stephen is most justified in concluding that life is “a muddle from first to last.” Stephen reminds Rachael about the premature death of his sister. Even her death is another evidence of saying life is a muddle. Stephen dies after clearing himself from the charges of robbery and indicating Gradgrind about the real culprit.

The Dissimilarity between Stephen and Slackbridge

      Stephen’s document of the misery fallen upon him due to the the industrialism make us to agree but Slackbridge’s case is not the same. After having being taken out of the chasm, Stephen comments on the pit that “When it were in work it killed without need; when it’s let alone, it kills without need. So how we die and no need, one way and another—in a muddle, everyday!” Slackbridge, while delivering his speech, addresses the workers of Coketown: “I tell you that the hour is come, when we must rally round one another as one united power; and crumble into dust the oppressors that too long have battered upon the plunder of our families, upon the sweat of our brows, upon the labor of our rights of humanity and upon the holy and eternal privileges of brotherhood”. Stephen has won our sympathy but Slackbridge leaves us cold. We do not feel sympathy for the down-trodden out of the oratory of Slackbridge, but Stephen seems an embodiment of pain.

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