The story of "Hard Times" is set in the North of England, in an industry city called Coketown, an epitome and symbol of the English society after the Industrial Revolution, about 1854, when the reactionary bourgeoisie had suppressed the Chartism and the class-contradiction had became severer and severer. It is the historic background of "Hard Times".
In"Hard Times" Dickens shows a genuine sympathy for the workers in Coketown, including Stephen Blackpool, an honest and hardworking man who lives in misery due to his unfortunate marriage, his kind-hearted and hardworking girlfriend Rachael, and Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a clown who has abandoned his station and his daughter as well. It is closely related to his parentage. He was born in a little house in England and grew in a family frequently beset by financial insecurity. When he was only eleven years old, he was taken out of school and sent to work in a blacking warehouse.
Therefore he appreciated the hard life of the under class in England. In his presentation of it he shows that it was just and proper for the workers to ask for better conditions and that the struggle of the workers was the simple result of their aspirations to win their human rights.
The novel is not only explaining the social problems but also reflecting the social life in England during that time through the complicated relations and clashes between the typical characters. The main plot turns on the completely failure of the "perfect" system of education which is carried out by two capitalists, Thomas Gradgrind and his friend Josiah Bounderby, both of whom are utilitarian. Bounderby, the banker, merchant and manufacturer, fabricates his life experience, vaunting himself a self-made man, to anesthetize the workers. He says "I hadn't a shoe to my foot.