Charles Dicken’s novel Hard Times is a commentary on the shortcomings of the Mid-Nineteenth Century England’s Industrialization Era, which favored the development of human beings into machines, without having any emotions or imagination. The characters in this novel have allegorical shades and represent two different ‘types’ of people; two different kinds of products of the industrial age. For instance, Thomas Gradgrind is the main character of the novel and represents ‘facts’. In contrast, Cecilia Jupe aka Sissy’s character stands for ‘fancy’ or imagination.
Thus, both these characters represent two different philosophies or lifestyles. Through these characters, Dickens has tried to question how fact differs from fancy and why fancy and imagination form an important part of one’s personality and development as a human being. Gradgrind is an educationist and represents a faulty educational system comprising only factual knowledge and measurable information. As a member of the parliament of Coketown, he is using this educational system to mass produce slaves for the town’s factories.
The pursuit of facts served an ideal purpose to the human beings in the Utilitarian society of the Mid-Nineteenth Century England. Gradgrind sees Sissy as an unpromising and unfit pupil due to her inability to respond to factual knowledge and refers to her merely through her roll number. Although being a part of such an educational system, Sissy refuses to be defined or influenced by it. Her strong personality, imagination, and compassion make it possible for her to not only to rise above the system but to lead a meaningful life and to reach out to others around her in their hour of need.
For instance, she is able to help Louisa realize what is missing in her life all along; she helps Tom too in his time of need and also takes care of the other younger children of Gradgrind. Thus, her character has a pronounced redemptive, motherly quality, although she was abandoned as a child by her father. According to Leavis, Sissy’s character is the embodiment of ‘fancy’ and has a special part to play in the fable and she “is wholly convincing in the function Dickens assigns to her” (235).
In an age of industrialization, where schools are acting like factories and churning out pupil who are duplicates of one another and are no better than machines, Sissy represents a gentle but firm assertion of morals, values, and compassion. By the end of the novel, her happy and peaceful life in contrast to Gradgrind’s own children’s unhappy lives makes him realize how wrong he has been about her and everything else. He then abandons his pursuit and belief in facts and tries to seek solace in values like Faith, Hope, and Charity instead. The learned thus becomes the learner.