Hard Times/Utilitarianism Unit Study for 9th or 10th grade

(Depending on your state requirements, this study may fulfill a 9-week credit, or a quarter of the school-year, dually for both world history and literature.)

NOTE: Parent/teacher, it is up to you to determine if the content of this book/study is appropriate for your child/student! It is also up to you to ensure your child receives the instructional hours necessary to receive credit for a class. As well, you are responsible for ensuring your child's safey and/or monitoring your child's activity at any time they are doing research on the internet.

Join us as, week by week, lesson plans appear for an entire study of Charles Dickens' Hard Times and utilitarianism.

Goals of this Unit Study

  • Have the student read (alone or with teacher) Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  • Begin to familiarize the student with Charles Dickens by learning about his life.
  • Make the student aware of how writers can use their medium to speak out about issues of the day.
  • Introduce the student to the concept of Utilitarianism
  • Introduce the student to Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo.
  • Have the student be able to place on a time line the following:
  • a) Utilitarianism in Great Britain
  • b) The years of birth and death of Charles Dickens
  • c) Industrial Revolution in Europe and then in America
  • Introduce the student to the concept of Political Economy
  • Help the student see the links between the industrial revolution and social reform.
  • Final exam will consist of either written or oral report on Dickens' view of social responsibility (or other relevant topic)--teacher decides.

Note: The study lasts 9 weeks and can be begun at any time throughout the school year if you allow for 9 weeks!

Materials List

  • 3-ring binder or composition book for student to write notes and definitions in and to answer essay questions.
  • Copy of the book Hard Times, by Charles Dickens
  • Notecards for end-of-study exam. These cards will guide the student with his oral presentation or allow the student to have notes to write his final paper.
  • Access to library/encyclopedias.

Weekly Reading Assignments

Week 1: Book the First, Chapter I through Chapter V
("The One Thing Needful" through "The Key-Note")
Week 2: Book the First, Chapter VI through Chapter IX
("Sleary's Horsemanship" through "Sissy's Progress")
Week 3: Book the First, Chapter X through Chapter XIV
("Stephen Blackpool" through "The Great Manufacturer")
Week 4: Book the First, Chapter XV through Book the Second,
Chapter II ("Father and Daughter" through "Mr. James Harthouse")
Week 5: Book the Second, Chapter III through Chapter VI
("The Whelp" through "Fading Away")
Week 6: Book the Second, Chapter VII through Chapter X
("Gunpowder" through "Mrs. Sparsit's Staircase")
Week 7: Book the Second, Chapter XI through Book the Third, Chapter II
("Lower and Lower" through "Very Ridiculous")
Week 8: Book the Third, Chapter III through Chapter V
("Very Decided" through "Found")
Week 9: Book the Third, Chapter VI through Chapter IX
("The Starlight" through "Final")


Week 1: Firstly, the student needs to be introduced to the author of Hard Times, Charles Dickens. Talk about the following facts with your student. You may either have the student take notes in his notebook or place information on a timeline (if you use one).

  • Born in 1812 at Landport near Portsmouth.
  • Moves in his early life included a move to London in 1815, and then to Chatham in 1817. The times in Chatham were the happiest childhood memories.
  • In 1823-1824, the Dickens family moved back to London in financial distress. Charles' father, John Dickens, was put in debtors' prison. Young Charles, who excelled at academics, was withdrawn from school and put to work in a blacking-warehouse. If your student remembers nothing else, impress upon him that these early memories are what helped to shape the future writer who would speak out against the condition of the impoverished and needy people of England.
  • Point out the biblical theme in the names of the books and some of the chapters in Hard Times. Can you find more biblical references as you read?

The student will read the reading assignment for week 1.

Have the student use a standard college dictionary to write the definition for:

  • utilitarianism
  • political economy
  • cogent
  • incorrigible

C'mon, mom, use these words around the house so your student will get them! Is your student an incorrigible comic book reader who puts up a cogent argument as to why he should keep reading instead of doing chores?

The student will write the answer to the following essay question in his notebook.

Essay Question:

It is said of Mr. M'Choakumchild that "if he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!" Also, when Louisa Gradgrind is caught peeping into the circus, she is described as having in her face "a light with nothing to rest upon" and as having a "starved imagination." What point is Charles Dickens trying to make with the condition of these two characters?

These are terms you may not have heard of and may want to make note of:

  • pugilist - a boxer
  • bolus - a large pill
  • Charles's Wain - another name for Ursa Major. Wagon (wain) of Charlemagne (Charles)
  • Mrs. Grundy - a character in Thomas Morton's play, Speed of the Plough, who represents the authority on propriety.

    On To Week Two!

(Book the First, Chapter II)
Regarding Horses
"Age known by marks in the mouth."
In a time when horses were used for work, travel, etc., a really nice gift to have given someone would have been a horse, preferably a strong, young horse. Since you can tell a horse's age by looking in his mouth, it might have offended the gift-giver by checking inside the horse's mouth upon receiving the gift horse. Thus, you "never look a gift horse in the mouth."

blacking--as in black shoe polish

The Charles Dickens Museum

David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page

Classic Reader--This site is amazing! There are many of Charles Dickens' works in full here. You can search for other books and other classic authors.

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