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The shortest of Charles Dickens’s novels, Hard Times is also his most pointed and impassioned satire of social injustice.
Set in Coketown, a fictional industrial town in the north of England, Hard Times was born of its author’s indignation at the soul-crushing conditions of the industrial age, and yet it vibrantly transcends the stock situations and polemical weaknesses typical of social protest fiction of the time. The indelible characters—Mr. Gradgrind, whose utilitarian educational philosophy emotionally cripples his own children; the hypocritical factory owner Josiah Bounderby; Stephen Blackpool, an honest worker wrongly accused of a crime; and Sissy Jupe, a circus performer whose father abandons her to what he hopes is a better life—all come alive in classic Dickensian fashion, and contribute to a satiric vision of society tempered equally by righteous anger and compassionate humanity.