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The first incident that involves the circus and circus people that I would like to talk about, and that clearly demonstrates the contrast between opposing values is on page 34 onwards. Mr Gradgrind, the absolute pinnacle of fact in the book, goes to visit the Circus people to tell them that the fanciful Sissy Jupe can no longer attend the school. I have chosen this incident as it involves more of the circus characters than really at any other time, secondly the description of the circus shows just how far from the world and values of fact it is.
The circus is the best symbol for representing the alternative to all that is fact in the book; the circus is seen as a world of mystery and wonder almost of magic and idea that completely goes against the idea of facts. Gradgrind and Bounderby go to see Sissy’s father only to find out he has abandoned his daughter, it is then that Mr Gradgrind decides on the possibility of taking Sissy to his own home, and educating her in the ways of fact from there. Mr Bounderby and Mr Gradgrind get together during this time and have a conference of opinions based upon the fact and laws they have always followed, Gradgrind being softer at heart but still the fact machine at this point wants to take Sissy home, but Gradgrind can be heard to be saying “No. I say no. I advise you not.
I say by no means.” He does this as he is the metaphor for fact throughout the book and to take someone else’s child on as your own and teach them the ways of fact, when she has been living the life of fancy for many years seems absurd to Bounderby. However, at the same time that Gradgrind is having a debate about the matter with Bounderby, “…the various members of Sleary’s company gradually gathered together from the upper regions…” The circus people are described in this chapter as being “…remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special inaptitude for any kind of sharp practice, and an untiring readiness to help and pity one another, deserving often as much respect, and always as much generous construction, as the every-day virtues of any class of people in the world.”
Unlike the likes of Bounderby and Gradgrind, who cannot be described as emotional or passionate or anything of the sort just “plain hard facts” Sleary in this chapter is the real philosopher on the ideas of fancy he even says it “…I lay down the philothophy of the thubject when thay to you, Thquire, make the betht of uth: not the wurtht!” This chapter clearly show the contrast between opposing views and values in Hard Times, the circus shows a whole new world but is representative of a whole new set of values the ideas of fancy are represented in the themes and scenes with the circus.
The thing is with the circus is that it has almost dreamlike status things happen there that cannot happen anywhere else and it appears to be an almost illusion, for example “The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father of another of the families on top of a great pole.” These are the things that you would only expect to see in dreams and so therefore it is fanciful, a complete contrast to the ideas of fact displayed throughout the rest of Hard Times.
A good example of how far opposed to the ideas of fact the circus is takes place on page 12 and 13 when, Mr Gradgrind the keeper of facts and bringer of knowledge to Thomas and Louisa Gradgrind’s lives, catches them sat watching the circus people, he takes the view that the circus was bad news, as it opposes everything he stands for “Now to think of these vagabonds attracting the young rabble from a model school.”
He sees the idea of the circus so fanciful and alien to him, he feels that to watch a circus act would be to debase himself or a well-educated child. It even says “his own mathematical Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower act!” This sentence shows what the opposing values are fully in Hard Times, it is obvious from the statement that anything mathematical or just plain practical is in direct opposition to the fanciful nature of flower shows and the like.
Thomas when caught does not even protest but knows that to obey his father’s principles he must “[give] himself up to be taken home like a machine.” That is clearly the way of fact to be machine like, and that is why the circus is such a good opposition and symbol of everything fact isn’t, Gradgrind condemns circus like ideals when he says “In the name of wonder, idleness and folly!” apparently to dream or to be imaginative is lazy in Gradgrind’s books. Which is why the factual way in which Gradgrind has based his life upon is so offended by the ideas of fancy as he doesn’t like the thought of being considered as being not lazy but that there can be other ways to work hard in life.
Gradgrind is so full of the idea that facts are right, that he even questions and believes that with all these thoughts at the disposal they could make the wrong decision, when surely it isn’t a case of right and wrong? Just opposing views and they do oppose each other! Gradgrind does say though “Thomas though I have the facts before me I find it difficult to believe that you with your education and resources should have brought your sister to a scene like this.” This makes it seem as though education is supposed to kill the imagination, which clearly conflicts with the views of the circus, which believe that you should work hard and perform in life, but never let the dreams die.