Hard Times is a novel by Charles Dickens, which savagely and relentlessly rips apart the school of Utilitarianism and its applications to the working man. Mr. Gradgrind dictates that the school of his little town shall teach nothing but facts — strict and severe, exact and all-encompassing. He indoctrinates this teaching in his two children, Louisa and Thomas.
Meanwhile, Stephen Blackpool, one of the dehumanized "Hands" who work in the town's factories, is living a hard life, and merely trying to get by, while staying close to his dear Rachael and avoiding the threatening unions.
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This work contains examples of the following tropes:
- The Alcoholic: Stephen Blackpool's wife. The obstacles in the way of Stephen's ability to divorce her are part of the Author Tract.
- Assimilation Academy: M'Choakumchild's school, where only facts are taught and wonder is discouraged. Gradgrind raises his children in this manner too.
- Author Tract
- Butt-Monkey: Stephen Blackpool.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Louisa does this to Gradgrind after Bounderby's marriage proposal, but Gradgrind thinks she's complimenting him on his parenting skills. When she does it again while revealing the truth about her marriage, though, he gets the point.
- Cool Big Sis: Louisa is this to Tom.
- Divorce Requires Death: For all intents and purposes, given that the novel appeared well before divorce laws were liberalized. As Bounderby explains, a divorce requires an Act of Parliament, which Stephen can hardly afford.
- Emotionless Girl: Louisa Gradgrind. She does feel emotions, it's just that she was never taught how to deal with with them and tried to ignore them, until they finally threatened to overwhelm her. She then turns to her father for help, which leads to a CMOH for them both. Even Gradgrind is flummoxed by her self-control at the news of Bounderby's marriage proposal.
- Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Mr. Gradgrind discourages his children from indulging in imaginative pursuits because he believes it distracts them from working and earning a living.
- Funetik Aksent: We have Rachel (low class Lancashire), Stephen (very Lancashire), and Sleary (pronounced lisp). The remainder, who are 'normal', are probably speaking the King's.
- Green-Eyed Monster: As much of a catch as Bounderby isn't, Mrs. Sparsit carries a torch for him and will only refer to Loo as "Miss Gradgrind", even after they're married. Subtle.
- Hypocrite: Bounderby describes himself as a Self-Made Man who was abandoned in the gutter as a child. Turns out that he was never abandoned; his mother raised him and looked after him.
- Jerkass: Bounderby.
- Tom Gradgrind is no prize, either, although this is mostly the fault of his upbringing.
- May–December Romance: Bounderby is about fifty, thirty years Louisa's senior. Not that there's much "romance" in the May–December Romance.
- Meaningful Name: This book is full of them. Mr Gradgrind, the schoolmaster grinds out graduates and Mr. M'Choakumchild who chokes children with facts.
- Mr. Harthouse, Louisa's would-be lover, is only a shell of a human being.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Mrs Sparsit tried to capture an old woman to please Mr Bounderby, only it turns out the woman is his mother and she gets sacked for exposing him as a humbug.
- Oop North
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Mrs. Sparsit follows Louisa and is sure that she is about to abscond with Harthouse. In fact, Louisa is attempting to get rid of Harthouse.
- Self-Made Man: Mr. Bounderby's account of his origins, which is...exaggerated.
- Sliding Scale Of Free Will Versus Fate: Debated. Tom excuses his criminal activities on the grounds that free will does not exist, which leads to one of his father's What Have I Done moments.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Stephen and Rachael, unable to marry because Stephen cannot divorce his wife.
- Stepford Smiler: Mrs Gradgrind
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mr. Gradgrind forced his two eldest children to learn facts all day long for every day of their childhood, telling them that things like imagination and emotions were worthless and should be rejected. Why? Because that way they could work more efficiently and earn more money, which he believed to be the best way to make them happy.
- What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: This is Louisa's problem when faced with Harthouse. She's attracted to him, but still has no idea what she feels.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Sissy Jupe
- What Have I Done: Mr. Gradgrind in regards to both Tom, who has become a criminal, and Louisa, who has been trapped in a nightmarish marriage.
- This is notable in the Chapter "Down" when Gradgrind comes to the conclusion of how his teachings has ruined Louisa's life.
- Writer on Board: Look no further than Chapter V, The Keynote.