Summary: The small, industrial town of Coketown revolves around facts. School children are taught nothing but facts. The Hands who work in the factories are faced only with reality. Those who live in the town are not allowed to care for anything imaginative, fanciful, or wonderful (they aren't even allowed to wonder at all!). Day after day the residents of Coketown are faced with nothing but, hard cold, brute fact. Thomas Gradgrind, the schoolmaster of the town is especially fond of facts and, in his good natured way, applied his fact centered philosophy to the children of Coketown and to his own children. Hard Times follows the lives of the Gradgrinds as they live their lives in a world without any notion of fantasy, wonder, love, or hope.
Spiritual Content: 9/10
As you might expect from a town concerned only with facts, spiritual matters are sorely neglected. This, however, is not praised as one might expect with a lot of Victorian literature, but the residents of Coketown are presented as being tragically deficient in one of the most important areas of life. In other news, a character is referred to as an angel and there are several churches mentioned. Christianity, however, plays no overt role, but it's clear that Dickens is playing with Christian ideas and philosophy in the work.
Sexual Content: 9/10
There's really nothing to terrible here. There is one character who attempts to convince another to engage in an extra-marital affair with him, but the woman refuses. Another man, though married, is in love with another woman, but cannot afford a divorce. he does not act upon his feelings, but maintains a close friendship with the woman whom he loves (it may also be noted that the woman he is married to is a drunken prostitueish type person)
This was a good story. The beginning was hard to get in to (which I think may have been the point), but it picked up near the middle, and by the end was hard to put down (I finished in one day). It also had an immensely satisfying ending.
Overall the style was good, but some important parts were difficult to understand. A few characters has poor country accents which were hard to read at first, but got easier as the book went on. Another important character has a lisp and a cockney accent. Those parts were nearly impossible to read. I had to do it out loud and substitute th's for s's. Even then, I'm not sure I got everything that he was trying to say. Also, the last several paragraphs of the book were written in a strange rhetorical style that made it difficult to understand what was going on. Most of the book was just fine, though.
The characters were excellent. They were thoroughly unlikable at the beginning (with several exceptions) and by the end the main subjects of the book - Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind - had grown and matured wonderfully. The bad characters remained unlikable, of course. I really enjoyed watching the characters grow and discover what was making their lives miserable and have to mature and face the problems that they had created for themselves.
Hard Times explored one of my favorite themes in literature - the necessity of a balanced existence. You can't just feed the mind and starve the soul and you can't just feed the soul and starve the mind. In order to be a whole person you have to feed both. This is one of the most important lessons for Christians. Our God made us physical and spiritual beings. He calls us both the reason with Him, and to fill ourselves with living water. The message of this book can be paralleled with the Christian faith quite nicely. The Gradgrinds were in a fallen spiritual state. They chose to feed their minds and rationality, but to starve their souls and imaginations. This destroyed them completely. It was only through a recognition of their desperate need for spiritual things that they began to heal and become whole persons! Loves it.
Overall Conclusion: 8.5/10
This was a really good book. Sometimes Dickens can get a little tedious, and there were some parts of this book that made me want to set myself on fire, but overall it was excellent. Well worth the hard parts. I also liked that it wasn't really a social issues book (like I thought it would be), as it was a picture of what humanity ought to look like. I would definitely read this book again, and I encourage others to read it as well.