Hard Times

Hard Times Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters 1-5

Book III: Garnering

Chapter One: Another Thing Needful

When she wakes up, Louisa is slightly disoriented. She does not immediately remember what has happened the night before. Sissy has brought her to her old room and she sees her younger sister, Jane. It is very clear to Louisa that Sissy has had a positive effect on the family for her sister's face is far more radiant than would have been expected. Mr. Gradgrind comes into the room to see Louisa and he is not at all like his old self. He is, instead, full of sorrow, humility and apology. He assures Louisa that he never meant to hurt her and that he has honestly only done those things which he thought would be best for her.

Louisa asks her father for advice but he replies that he does not really trust himself to give her the correct advice. To be honest, he simply does not know enough about emotion to offer proper counsel. He considers his youngest daughter, Jane, and points out that she is a happier case and that despite the rigorous education, she has had daily associations with Sissy and this has made all the difference. Even Mr. Gradgrind admits that he has also undergone a sort of change in large part thanks to Sissy. It seems then, that Sissy might have some advice or counsel for Louisa and later on, after Mr. Gradgrind leaves Louisa's room, Sissy enters.

Louisa apologizes for her unpleasant attitude and she insists that Sissy must be disgusted by her. But throughout the conversation, Sissy only extends the kindest emotions towards Louisa who eventually ends up sobbing in Sissy's arms.


Book Three is entitled "Garnering" and the narrative structure of this final section, reflects the author's efforts to conclude and organize the action and the dispersed characters. One of the dominant symbols of the chapter is the unstable, no longer solid "ground" upon which Gradgrind's system once stood. The not-solid ground is literally the floor upon which Louisa has collapsed. The shakiness is echoed in Gradgrind's trembling voice and his overall re-characterization as a humbled man who has been brought down low. Dickens' characterization is not as entirely negative as it might have been. Gradgrind's good intentions are taken into account, and it is true that he has only sought to improve his children and never meant to cause them pain.

After an extended absence from the story, Sissy reappears as the archetypal heroine. We can fully expect that in Book Three, Sissy will play a savior-like role for the Gradgrind family and she will care for them as best as she possibly can. There is an intense contrast and reversal of fate for Sissy is the "once deserted" girl but now she is the one who towers over Louisa and cares for the young woman who described as a metaphorical shipwreck. The shipwreck image is furthered by Sissy's depiction as a lighthouse or beacon for she "shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other."

Chapter Two: Very Ridiculous

James Harthouse has been restless for the last day and a half for he has received no word from Louisa. He is Coketown, where he expected to see her again after their encounter in the garden. He finds Louisa's brother, Tom, and interrogates him but Tom has not seen Louisa. Also, Tom is more than a little upset about waiting in the rain for Mr. Harthouse to show up‹and of course, Harthouse was up to other things at the time. Harthouse spends the hours in his hotel room and after a certain point, he is convinced that Mr. Bounderby must be aware of his relationship with Louisa.

He considers his options and it occurs to him that he might have to box Mr. Bounderby. He entertains himself with the ridiculous idea of training and having the hotel waiters and staff assist him. He receives a message that there is a young lady waiting to see him. It is Sissy and she has arrived to inform Harthouse that he is no longer to see Louisa and that he must depart Coketown and never return. Harthouse tries to impose his authority but to little avail. Sissy is firm in her demands and she yields nothing. At the end of the chapter, Harthouse is astonished that he could be so easily manipulated by a younger woman. His surprise reaches its peak when he learns of Sissy's lowly upbringing amongst horse trainers. Discontinuing his relations with Louisa before they amounted to fidelity is "about the very best passage in his life" but Harthouse is incredibly ashamed of what he perceives as a weakness.


This chapter pits Sissy against James Harthouse and even as this scene could hardly have been predicted, Sissy's victory is also a surprise that we would not have expected. Dickens takes great effort to continue the portrayal of the poor and the reversals of fortune that he began earlier in the novel. The irony of the scene is demonstrated in Sissy's rhetorical abilities in spite of her upbringing. Harthouse is reduced to the paradox of a "Great Pyramid of failure." Harthouse is great, whether he fails or succeeds, if only because of his noble birth. Dickens presents an opportunity for Harthouse to show humility and grace, but Harthouse goes as far as to renounce the good deeds that he has grudgingly agreed to carry out. His self-image and characterization as a Pyramid somehow leads to the idea of escaping the scene altogether and heading for Egypt. In contrast to men like Stephen Blackpool, Harthouse has plenty of loopholes and opportunities for escape.

The imagery that surrounds Harthouse is largely negative. His hotel is described as a symbolic hell, a "region of blackness." And Harthouse's idleness and inconsistency is described as a moral weakness that is worse than more deliberate evils. The sharpest metaphor for Harthouse's moral condition can be found in Dickens explanation of the man's rhetoric: it was the "polishing of but an ugly surface." Harthouse seeks to polish his appearance and justify his actions, but he is both guilty (ugly) and superficial (surface). Even his wrongdoing is shallow and incomplete, it seems.

Chapter Three: Very Decided

Mrs. Sparsit is still stirring up trouble. All of her running back and forth in the nighttime rain has caused her to get a violent cold but this does not stop her from completing her mission. She went as far as London to find Mr. Bounderby and confront him with the news of Louisa's conversation in the garden, and her flight from the country house‹presumably, to continue her romantic affair. After giving the news, Mrs. Sparsit collapses in an incredibly theatrical display. Bounderby brings her back to Coketown and he carries her along with him to Stone Lodge, where he intends to confront Mr. Gradgrind (unaware that Louisa is also at Stone Lodge).

Mrs. Sparsit's story is presented and Mr. Gradgrind confesses that he is already aware of these details and that Louisa has preserved her honor by returning to her father's house when she did not know how to defend herself from temptation on her own. Mrs. Sparsit is now considered in the worst light for she has cast aspersions and criticized Louisa without due cause. She can do little more than utter an apology and begin crying profusely as she is sent back to town.

Gradgrind and Bounderby continue their conversation and Gradgrind makes it clear that he feels that his daughter has been wronged‹both by his actions and Bounderby's as well. In a partial retraction from his earlier positions, Gradgrind looks at Louisa's age and her upbringing and he thinks that she would do well to have a few weeks to emotionally recuperate at Stone Lodge, under Sissy's care. Sissy understands Louisa and Louisa trusts Sissy. Bounderby is no less pleased by this than by the rumored infidelity and he demands to have his wife back at his house by noon the next day. Otherwise: the marriage will be annulled. Mr. Gradgrind insists that a marital union is not so casual a thing to be rejected and Bounderby is irritated by the repetition of words with which he once abused Stephen Blackpool. When Louisa does not arrive the next day, Bounderby makes good on his threat.


The narrative structure of this chapter works towards the plot coming "full circle." In the most dramatic sense, Bounderby is frustrated in his conversation with Mr. Gradgrind for he hears the repetition of the words that he once spoke to Stephen Blackpool. The heavily foreshadowed collapse of the Bounderby marriage has finally come about. With the dissolution of the marriage comes the imagery of loss and ruin and Mrs. Sparsit, who is at the root of this unraveling, is characterized as a "classical ruin." Just as her unraveling physical appearance reflects ruin, anguish and haste, she has brought all of these negative conditions to life‹but in the lives of the people around her.

We can fully expect that Mrs. Sparsit will continue her nosiness and her surveillance, and the theme of surveillance suggests that just as Mr. Gradgrind was a faulty instructor, haughty individuals like Mrs. Sparsit are bound to fail in their attempts to be God-like judges. In fact, the climax of Mrs. Sparsit's rise and fall will come as a result of her own undoing. The use of the word "refuge" is a sarcastic pun, referring to Bounderby's speedy dismissal of Mrs. Sparsit by coach. When her snooping eventually creates a greater embarrassment for Mr. Bounderby, he will be even harsher in his offering of "refuge."

Chapter Four: Lost

With his marriage dissolved, Bounderby takes a renewed interest in his bank. He is especially interested in solving the robbery‹for the case remains unresolved. Stephen Blackpool remains under heavy suspicion for he has disappeared entirely. The surrounding mystery is further amplified by "the mysterious old woman [who] remained a mystery"‹Blackpool has been seen with her. Bounderby eventually takes the law into his own hands, making up for his lack of evidence with his abundance of power in excess. He has posters placed all over town demanding the apprehension of Blackpool and offering a reward.

Slackbridge, the leader of the United Aggregate Tribunal, takes advantage of the situation and relishes the news of Blackpool's alleged crime as further evidence that the dissenter was a true traitor and a true thief. There are a few voices that cry out against Slackbridge's slander but the response is overwhelmingly in the speaker's favor. Rachael is worried about Stephen and she cannot bear to see his reputation tarnished. She goes to see Mr. Bounderby and relays her story. Rachael, Mr. Bounderby and Tom then go to Stone Lodge to see Louisa.

Rachael politely interrogates Louisa about the night when she and Tom arrived at Stephen's room. Louisa confesses that she did see Stephen, Rachael and the old woman and that while she offered Stephen money, he was very honest and forthright and refused the offer and would only accept two pounds. Rachael's story is verified before Mr. Bounderby but the question of Stephen's whereabouts remains. Louisa is sorry to hear that Stephen has been branded as a thief but Rachael remains highly suspicious for it seems that Stephen's alleged guilt bears some connection to the visit that Louisa and Tom made that night.

Rachael is so confident in Stephen's innocence that she has written to him, informing him of the charges leveled against him. When Bounderby interrupts that he has word from the post office that no letters have been sent to anyone named Stephen Blackpool, Rachael replies that Stephen is living under an assumed name because he cannot get work as Stephen Blackpool‹thanks to Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Slackbridge. Rachael is confident that Stephen will arrive and Sissy is very supportive. She mentions that suspicion has fallen on Stephen because he was seen lingering around the bank, but Rachael does not understand why Stephen would have done this.

For his part, Tom shadows Mr. Bounderby as if he is very eager to apprehend the thief. He follows the banker everywhere that he goes and he continually maintains Stephen's guilt. For if Stephen is innocent, why doesn't he come back and defend himself? Messengers report the news that Stephen did receive Rachael's letter and he departed within the hour‹still, he should have arrived at Coketown but there is no trace of him.


This chapter is entitled "Lost" and indeed, very much has been lost. The narrative structure comes to rely upon the suspense and indefinite aspect of the title word. What precisely has been lost? Just as the chapter entitled "Down" offered a departure from the trajectory established with "Mrs. Sparsit's Staircase" and "Lower and Lower," whatever is "Lost" in this chapter is not necessarily what will be "Found" in the next chapter. One thing that has been lost is the Bounderby marriage; this will not return in Chapter Five. Indeed, there is an allusion to the Roman goddess of love, Venus, describing Bounderby's new found love for his bank as a replacement, rebirth and re-direction of the love he was incapable of sustaining in his marital union.

The image is a corrupted one though, for just as the love of a bank is a dirtier idea than marital bliss, Venus's birth out of the sea foam of Cythera is likened to Bounderby's birth out of the mud. The contrast between Venus's sea foam and Bounderby's foul mud is enough to invert the image. Symbolically, this re-birth is not a true birth and what is lost (Bounderby's soul) will remain that way. Just as Harthouse could not polish his dirt, Bounderby cannot nobly rise out of the mud with any newfound loves.

The motif of cleanliness and dirt extends the themes of fidelity and honesty. In the most dramatic sense, Louisa's fidelity and Bounderby's annulment reflect two opposites capacities for devotion. In this chapter, we find another example of dishonesty in Tom's false efforts to "assist" Bounderby locate the thief. Of course, Tom is the true thief and his assistance is simply his form of surveillance: he figures that as long as he is aware of the investigation's progress, he is in the clear.

Chapter Five: Found

Two days pass and there is still no trace of Stephen. Sissy goes to visit Rachael to comfort her and to see if there is any news. Rachael still works her long hours in the factory, in spite of her anxieties. She confesses to Sissy that there are hardly any individuals who still believe in Stephen's innocence. She adds that she is afraid that perhaps Stephen has been a victim of some violence‹deliberate or accidental, for he would have done his best to arrive in Coketown as soon as possible. She is afraid that he has been murdered. Sissy offers some hope and suggests that perhaps he has fallen ill and had to stop along the road. But Rachael replies that all of the stops along the way have been searched and Stephen has not turned up in any of them. Sissy reassures Rachael that everything will work for the best in the end. It is Friday and she decides that if no news arrives on Saturday, they will walk into the country on Sunday morning and the calm will strengthen Rachael for the week ahead. Rachael agrees with the plan.

As Rachael and Sissy are walking in the street they observe a commotion taking place outside of Mr. Bounderby's house. Mrs. Sparsit is at the center of the scene and she is dragging the "mysterious old woman" behind her. Sparsit has been continuing her investigations and has located the woman who calls herself Mrs. Pegler. About twenty-five neighbors and other bystanders follow Sparsit into the house and of course, Rachael and Sissy enter as well. Sparsit has Mr. Bounderby sent for and the old woman makes an unsuccessful attempt to escape.

Mr. Bounderby arrives with Mr. Gradgrind and Tom and he is astonished when he sees the old woman. He demands to know why Mrs. Sparsit has brought this woman into his house. Mrs. Pegler pleads that she tried very hard to escape and insisted that Mr. Bounderby would not want to see her but to no avail. She calls Mr. Bounderby "my dear Josiah" and "my own boy." Bounderby suggests that Mrs. Pegler ought to have overpowered Sparsit but the old lady replies that Sparsit had threatened to call the constables and she no choice but to come quietly.

Pegler maintains her decency, saying: "I have always lived quite and secret, Josiah, my dear. I have never broken the condition once. I have never said I was your motherŠ" This mortifies Mr. Bounderby‹for in her defense, Pegler has‹for better or worse‹uncovered her secret. Mr. Gradgrind suggests that Pegler ought to be ashamed of herself for arriving at the scene after deserting her son in his youth and leaving him in the care of his drunken grandmother. Pegler is furious at the attack and she wonders, aloud, how Mr. Gradgrind would dare to attack her as a cruel mother when her son is present and would surely defend her honor. Furthermore, her mother died in her arms before Josiah was even born.

Gradgrind is the one who is astonished and when he asks Pegler is she denies leaving her son in the gutter, she most wholeheartedly denies the accusation and explains that her house was a humble one but she and her husband cared for their son. They were proud of how he worked hard and they made sacrifices to afford him opportunities. After she was widowed, Mrs. Pegler had Josiah set up as an apprentice and when he became wealthy she agreed to his conditions: He did not want to be embarrassed or hampered by his humble upbringings so Pegler agreed to conceal the secret of his family background and in return Josiah gave her (a measly) thirty pounds a year. But she has only been grateful and proud from a distance. Still, her love is strong and she assures Mr. Gradgrind that Mr. Bounderby will attest to her story.

The bystanders all have sympathy for Mrs. Pegler and also for Mr. Gradgrind who was simply repeating the story they had all heard countless times. Bounderby makes no apology or explanation and he orders everyone out of his house though he is hardly the bully he once was. He has lost all respect. The robbery remains unsolved and it is now Louisa who worries not only that her brother is guilty but she also fears that something might have been done to Stephen and that Tom might be involved in this as well.


Indeed, the person who is "found" in this chapter is not at all the person that anyone had in mind. Part of the irony of what has been lost and found comes in Mrs. Pegler having found her son even as she was once of the suspects, presumed "lost." There is also the contrast of Mrs. Sparsit's victorious exclamation here: "She belongs to me" and her dismay at the end of "Lower and Lower" when she admits of Louisa: "I've lost her." Mrs. Sparsit fully intends to use this situation to get back in Mr. Bounderby's good graces but her plans backfire.

Earlier in the novel, Dickens made an allusion to Bunyan's work, Pilgrim's Progress. Again, Dickens alludes to the work when he describes Mrs. Sparsit as being in the "Slough of Despond." The climax of the chapter comes when Bounderby suffers his own fall‹for pride goes before the fall. All of his stories about being "in the gutter" become a metaphorically truth made out of a literal lie, for Bounderby was never living "in the gutter"‹but the crowd agrees that morally, he is certainly in the gutter. Bounderby's stinginess is especially loathsome when we compare the thirty pounds that he gives his mother each year to the one hundred and fifty pounds that is being so vigorously pursued.

By the end of the chapter, Dickens' thematic concern regarding "surveillance" is largely complete. Here at the end of the chapter called "Found," all of the efforts to find the missing individuals and money have been unsuccessful and those most under watch have frustrated the efforts of would-be spies and snoopers. Yet again, the chapter ends with the ever-pressing concern for Stephen Blackpool. The sad reality of the scene is that the characters are able to find everything and everyone that they are not looking for.