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Bounderby is furious with Mrs. Sparsit for having accidentally brought his past to life by returning Mrs. Pegler to Coketown. He decides to fire her as the most damaging punishment. Suggesting she go to her wealthy relation, Lady Scadgers, Bounderby sends Mrs. Sparsit on her way. Mrs. Sparsit returns insult for insult. She replies that nothing a "noodle" says or does should ever surprise- "noodles" can only "inspire contempt." And with that she sweeps out of the room and out of Bounderby's life.

Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit, for all of his money and her breeding, can't keep their final argument on a polite tone. They are reduced to insults and name-calling. Bounderby's plan to wound Mrs. Sparsit backfires when he discovers she's hated him for a long time.

Have you noticed a difference in the way Gradgrind and Bounderby are each handled in the novel? At first, because they are friends, it may seem that Bounderby and Gradgrind are very much alike. But you have seen how a rude awakening has changed Gradgrind for the better. He is a wiser man for his experiences. There is no such wisdom for Bounderby. He is the same pompous, greedy humbug he was at the very first. Readers have pointed out that Bounderby and Gradgrind seem to come from two different modes of writing. Bounderby is a character from comic fiction, like the exaggerated cartoons Dickens created for The Pickwick Papers. He is always the same and never grows as a human being. (The same might be said of Mrs. Sparsit.) Gradgrind, on the other hand, is more fully drawn, closer to the realistic techniques of Dickens's later novels. That they inhabit the same book suggests to some that Dickens is inconsistent in his characterizations. Others delight in the fact that the universe of a Dickens novel can embrace both types successfully.

The rest of the novel looks to the future. Mrs. Sparsit will lead a bickering, penny-pinching life with Lady Scadgers. Only Sissy- the wisdom of the heart from the very first- seems completely fulfilled. As for the citizens of Coketown, no magic formula cleans the air or the water or the skies; no solution is found for the greed of the employers or the manipulation of the union. Life is much as it was when the novel began. What some of the characters learn about themselves is not enough to make a difference in the town's miserable existence. The ending is one of the reasons Hard Times is considered by many to be Dickens's harshest, most bitter novel.


ECC [Hard Times Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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