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Charles Dickens set the play in the 1850’s during the industrial revolution in Lancashire. ‘Hard Times’ is set in a town called ‘Coaltown’ which is stricken with poverty and this is reflected in most of the town’s inhabitants-in their garb and in the way they look. There is a big rift between the rich and the poor and the rich like this arrangement. The school which the children go to is more like a military training camp, where the children are taught only facts:
“Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts”
“Facts alone are wanted in life”
The children at this school are partitioned-boys on one side of the classroom and the girls on the other. The teachers are all male.
‘To Sir with Love’ is set in the East End of London during the 1960’s, this was a period of rebellion and change with teachers unable to punish pupils, and certain people took this opportunity to cause havoc, with the powerless teachers unable to do anything. The class in the play come from working, families and are all dressed scruffily.
In Dickens Hard Times the pupils are not allowed to let their minds wonder, they are taught constantly. The classes were run by organisations and in some places there were up to a thousand pupils in one room, they are all taught at once, their age is irrelevant. The teachers are shown an amazing amount of respect and the children would never backchat or disobey any order they were given. Since there were so many children being taught the teachers addressed them by a number instead of name. The teachers in Hard Times, all dress in suites in an attempt to gain even more respect than they have-this is nearly impossible.
To Sir with Love is a complete contrast the children have a choice of what to wear, even though they come from working class families, they still look like the children in Hard Times:
“Those rough looking untidy children”
The teachers first impression of the pupils is lazy, dirty scruffy kids, they talk in slang and at the start they act like kids always shouting and screaming:
“The words bloody and bleeding were hardly ever absent from any remark”
Both sexes interact constantly especially during break when they all start dancing in the hall. During classes the pupils annoy their teacher so much that he gives up teaching and throws all the text books in the bin- this is very symbolic because it is when he stops treating them as kids and starts treating them as adults. This is when the teaching moves on from teaching facts to telling them about life (e.g. how to behave, address each other, speak properly etc).
The pupils and teachers in Hard Times have no personal relationship, in fact the teachers try too rid the pupils of any unwanted imagination or personality:
“You are never to fancy”
This basically translates to ‘you are not allowed to imagine or have your own opinions.’ According to the teachers there is only one way to live and they mould the pupils into their perfect image of person, leaving no room for argument.
The relationship between pupil and teacher in ‘To Sir with Love’ changes as the play progresses, it starts off with the pupils ignoring whatever their teachers and not cooperating, this is only while he is trying to teach them facts, the main reason they shun him is because he acts and dresses like a gentleman (he is different to them). Everything changes when he throws the books away because they understand that he isn’t like their other teachers and is really like them-he has faced all the problems that they have faced-and with time they grow to respect him and almost care about him, just as he does them. Unique things happen for example the teacher gets taught about their lives and he gains an insight into why teenagers are the way they are . after he hears some of their problems he feels compassion for them. He treats them as individuals whereas in ‘Hard Times’ they are treated as objects and the teachers don’t really care about any of them.
The language used in Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’ starts significantly with the title which on its own signifies a time of poverty, unemployment and a general struggle. The names of the teachers also have hidden meanings-Mr Choakumchild is one name which as soon as you say it the word ‘choke’ comes to mind-as in choking the ‘fancy’ out of his pupils. Mr Gradgrind’s name brings words like ‘hard work’ and ‘grinding’ or ‘crushing.’ As in crushing the imagination out of pupils. They speak very formal/standard English.
The book often repeats that Mr. Gradgrind is “square”, this means he is dull and boring but also suggests that he is sharp, rigid and harsh, it is repeated so that you get the picture about him. As well as how “square” Mr Gradgrind is, you get the message that all that should be learnt is facts since it is shouted by the teachers so many times. The language used tells a lot about characters and how they behave/teach, for example Mr Choakumchild is said to have too much knowledge and so cannot teach as well as he could:
“If he had only learned a little less how infinitely better he might have taught much more”
In ‘To Sir with Love’ the characters use of language varies between each person. The teacher talks in polite, standard English. Whereas the pupils use an informal colloquial speech with an Anglo-Saxon dialect mixed in (Swearing!!). The teacher speaks with respect. He wants to help the pupils and tries to set a good example. He is well educated and wishes no harm to anybody.
There are many things that are the same in both plays, yet there are also a lot of things that vary as well-the teachers all speak aristocratic whereas the pupils speak colloquially, also in both novels the teachers try to do their best to help their pupils even though they do it in many different ways.