1. Critics have called Hard Times an allegory. Would you agree with this statement? Prove your response by making direct reference to passages in the novel.
2. Characterize Mrs. Gradgrind; in what ways does she show that, being incapable of comprehending her husband's philosophy, she has withdrawn from the world?
3. Louisa was descending the allegorical staircase of shame. Were there others descending with her? Support your answer.
4. What analogy is drawn between Coketown and the Gradgrindian philosophy?
5. What are Mrs. Sparsit's reasons for not calling Louisa Mrs. Bounderby?
6. Explain what Dickens means by "Bounderby's absolute power."
7. Rachael and Stephen have been subjected to criticism by readers who say that they are almost too good to be true. At what points in the story do Rachael and Stephen refute this criticism?
8. What is Mrs. Sparsit's role in the novel?
9. Dickens, as we all know, is utilizing satire to agitate for better conditions in England. To what advantage does Kidderminster serve Dickens' purpose?
10. What motivated Louisa's visit to Stephen? What were the results of this visit?
11. What, according to Tom, was Louisa's method of escape?
12. Of what significance was the "Star Shining" to Stephen? What does this represent symbolically?
13. In the time of the Hebrew prophet Daniel, Belshazzar, last king of Babylon, saw the "handwriting on the wall," which foretold his destruction. How does Dickens utilize this analogy?
14. Why is it significant for the novel to open in the classroom of Facts and conclude in the circus of Fancy?
15. What hope does Dickens give concerning Gradgrind?
16. By clearing Stephen's name, Mr. Gradgrind realized that someone else would be implicated. Who was this person? How does Gradgrind react when he realizes the implications?
17. How does Bounderby's concept of smoke differ from that of the Hands?
18. What is the motive behind Mrs. Sparsit's spying on James Harthouse and Louisa Bounderby?
19. Bitzer states that the entire economic system is based on self-interest. Does his character prove his statement? What characters other than Bitzer would be examples of his statement?
20. How did Gradgrind react when he realized that his educational philosophy was a failure?