A great entertainer, Dickens was a storyteller of the highest degree, and in Hard Times- as in most of his novels- he weaves a wonderful story. Dickens himself is the narrator, observing his characters, commenting upon them, and talking directly to the reader. (You saw in the style section how these devices work to pull in the reader.) With few exceptions (the first-person David Copperfield is one), Dickens favors this third-person point-of-view in his novels.
Dickens as narrator is selectively omniscient. For example, you may go for a long time without knowing what Tom is thinking, but then- for a brief moment or two- you'll be allowed entrance into Tom's mind. This choice of when and how you may see into the minds of the characters gives the narrator a great deal of power over how he wants you to view the story.
The strength of this narrator also dictates how you are to feel about each character. There's no ambiguity for Dickens here. You are told that Bounderby is a "bully," Tom a "hypocrite." Dickens is firm in these judgments; you know from the start which characters engage his sympathies and which repel him. Thus the morals he draws from his characters are very clear, down to the last bit of advice he offers in the novel's final paragraph.
You may find yourself resisting Dickens's opinions now and then, since his narrative voice is so strong. You may not need to be told, for example, that Tom is a monster and a hypocrite; you'd rather form that opinion yourself. If so, you're not alone among those who resent such narrative intrusion. But even if you do disagree with Dickens's moments of moralizing, you're not likely to question the passion and sincerity with which he voices these thoughts.
Hard Times is divided into three sections, or books, and each book is divided into three separate chapters. The structure of the book takes its shape from the titles of the books, all of which are drawn from farming images that have biblical connotations.
Book the First, "Sowing," shows us the seeds planted by the Gradgrind/Bounderby philosophy: Louisa, Tom, and Stephen Blackpool.
Book the Second, "Reaping," reveals the harvesting of these seeds: Louisa's unhappy marriage, Tom's selfishness and criminal ways, Stephen's rejection from Coketown.
The first two books recall the biblical passage, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).
Book the Third, "Garnering," details the results of the harvest. The title of the book recalls the biblical character Ruth. Ruth followed her mother-in-law Naomi to Naomi's homeland. There Ruth was allowed to follow the harvesters in the cornfield and gather what they did not pick up. The owner of the fields, Boaz, was so moved by her sense of duty and hard work that he took her for his wife.
In Hard Times, the characters must "take home" the results of what has been reaped- that is, they must live with the circumstances of their mistakes. Louisa's marriage fails, Tom must escape from the country, and Stephen dies.
Hard Times was written as a weekly magazine serial in twenty parts. This accounts for the number of chapters that end in suspense or in minor climaxes. You might enjoy guessing where each weekly installment began and ended. If so, don't look at the chart that follows.
Here are how the chapters were divided into weekly "numbers."
Installment Number Chapters - 1 Book the First I-III 2 IV-V 3 VI 4 VII-VIII 5 IX-X 6 XI-XII 7 XIII-XIV 8 XV-XVI 9 Book the Second I 10 II-III 11 IV-V 12 VI 13 VII 14 VIII 15 IX-X 16 XI-XII 17 Book the Third I-II 18 III-IV 19 V-VI 20 VII-IX
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