The Opening Chapters of Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was born in Kent on February 7th 1812. It was the start of the nineteenth century and the Industrial Revolution was changing many English policies, the education system being one of them. Dickens wrote “Hard Times” intending to show what was wrong in schools and how they could be improved. He uses each of the main characters to get across his different points. In this essay I will explore some of the ways in which Dicken’s attitudes to education are portrayed in the first few chapters of “Hard Times”.
In the first chapter Dickens shows how Thomas Gradgrind is well and truly obsessed with facts. Here is a quote from one the very first few lines of the book: “Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. ” Gradgrind goes on and on about facts for the rest of the first paragraph and every time he comes across the word fact, the “F” is capitalised just like the “G” of God is capitalised in the bible.
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This shows he had so much respect for facts he almost worships them. Dickens makes a mockery of Gradgrind’s obsession with fact. Even the name Charles Dickens chose for this school master helped emphasize his character and personality. The “grad” is a harsh sound, showing him as a harsh person and also links to the word grade showing Gradgrind’s obsession with measuring and perfect children. The “grind” shows how he grinds down the imagination of the children just like food would be ground down in a factory. Gradgrind was also described to look very boring and dull. The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders – nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was – all helped the emphasis.
” His neckcloth was described as being like a stubborn fact and everything about him was square and ordered. He provided no respect to the pupils, just treated them like “little vessels then and there, arranged in order, ready have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were filled to the brim. Thomas Gradgrind’s actions towards the pupils were shown furthermore through Sissy Jupe and Bitzer. When “Girl number twenty,” told him her name he replied “Sissy is not a name. Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia. ” This showed how little respect he showed to the pupils. It emphasised how he thought of each one simply as a vessel. Sissy Jupe is a girl who has not been at the school for long. She hasn’t been ground down with fact. Therefore she is described as sunny, natural, light-eyed and colourful.
On the other hand Bitzer a boy who has been at the school for a while and knows the exact definition for a horse. He described as pale, unwholesomely, light-haired and deficient. The way each character is described shows what fact does to children and how imagination and opinion should flourish. As readers we feel sorry for both children. Sissy Jupe is being humiliated and having her personal thoughts removed but Bitzer has gone pale and white with fact. He sits down with “his knuckles to his freckled forehead”. Dickens uses description to present certain ideas of the characters.
If Dicken’s hadn’t thought about each character, Gradgrind, Sissy, Bitzer and Inspector M’Choakumchild and how their appearance and features could reflect what they’d been through and what they thought the book wouldn’t really make much sense and wouldn’t show what Dickens thought. Here’s a quote describing Sissy Jupe when Gradgrind stands her up in front of the whole class: “She courtesied again, and would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had all this time. ” The detail and description of even her simple actions show how she’s feeling.
Dicken’s was described to have “a square wall of a forhead. ” It is ironic that imagery is used to express Gradgrind’s personality when he is such a factual person. The titles of the chapters: “The One Thing Needful” and “Murdering the Innocents” tell an awful lot about the characters as well. These are both quotations from the Bible. “The One Thing Needful” refers to God and prayer in the bible but in the book it refers to Thomas Gradgrind and his love for fact. “Murdering the Innocents” refers to King Herod murdering young boys.
This is a metaphor for Gradgrind murdering the minds and imaginations of his pupils. The omniscient narrator (the omniscient narrator can shift time. It can get inside people’s minds to access thoughts, feelings and motives. It is used for 3rd person narration) has quite a personality. It describes in detail with witty comments and a distinct point of view. The description of Gradgrind’s house, “Stone Lodge”, shows how organised he is. The house stands simply as house to be used as a house and nothing else. The omniscient narrator sounds like a real person and helps to emphasize Dicken’s opinions.
In the book Gradgrind and Sissy Jupe have a bit of a barny over fact and fancy. Gradgrind thinks “Why, then, you are not to see any where, what you don’t see in fact. What is called Taste, is only another name for fact. ” Whereas Sissy thinks differently and when asked if she would paper a wall in representation of flowers she says “If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,” Clearly Gradgrind and Sissy show two completely different points of view yet Sissy is the admirable, happy, bright young girl and Gradgrind is a horrible old man.
Readers respond to this and side with Sissy’s points of view and ideas. The difference between them is emphasised even more when Gradgrind catches his very own children peeping through a whole to get a glimpse of the circus where Sissy Jupe’s father works. He was “dumb with amazement” at his “disgraced family”. Just after this event Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa says “I was tired, father. ” “Of what? ” inquires Gradgrind. “of everything I think”. I have looked carefully at the opening of “Hard Times” and Dicken’s attitudes towards education have been conveyed through characterisation, speech and narrative.
As the novel progresses Gradgrind realises that a life dependent on facts will not work, while Sissy Jupe is a positive influence showing imagination and experience to be more important than facts. Despite the mocking tone of Dicken’s narrative, he was trying to draw the reader’s attention to the problems in the Victorian Education System. Charles put forward his concerns, attitudes and ideas in a way that they could be understood. Writing a story explaining your views is much more effective than simply telling people your point of view. His choice of language and structure helped him make this book very effective.