Hard Times is a classic novel by Charles Dickens and talks about the economic, social and moral struggles that English folks had to deal with back in the 19th century. The most amazing thing about this book is that it's the shortest one by Mr. Dickens - compared to his other novels, it's really really short. Furthermore, you won't find any illustrations in the original book; plus, London - the author's favorite city - is replaced with a fictitious mill-town, Coketown. By the way, the Utilitarians play a vital role in Hard Times and Dickens talks a lot about their good sides and their bad sides, giving the readers a chance to figure them out by themselves, without imposing his own thoughts and beliefs. The man himself called it a "selfish philosophy" that had a lot in common with capitalism, though.
The story begins with a superintendent interrogating Sissy, a little girl. Her father works at a circus and takes care of the horses. At the same time, the superintendent's own children want to go and see the circus that's in town, but their father finds them and sends back home. Josiah Bounderby is his closest friend and owns a mill and constantly visits Mr. Gradgrind's family and talks about his childhood in a dramatic, tragic matter, even though pretty much nothing of what he speaks about actually happened.
Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby decide to dismiss Sissy from the school and call her a bad influence for the other kids. However, she claims that her own dad has abandoned her, in hope that she'll have a better chance at a happy life without him. Soon, Mr. Sleary, the manager of the circus, comes around, and Sissy has to make a choice: to return to the circus or to continue studying at the school and work for Mr. Gradgrind's wife. She stays in the town, hoping to get her dad back.