Charles Dickens was a Victorian, sardonic writer who wrote social criticisms about Victorian England. In the first few chapters of ‘Hard Times’ Charles Dickens is criticizing in particular the education system. Charles Dickens is showing what the curriculum is like through the eyes of Mr. Gradgrind and how the children would react through the eyes of Sissy Jupe and Bitzer. Charles Dickens also uses narrative and speech in different ways in these chapters. Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on the 7th of February 1812.
Dickens didn’t have an easy life. He was the 2nd of eight children and his father was imprisoned for debt.
At the age of 12 Dickens was sent to work in a blacking factory. Shortly after the rest of Dickens’ family were imprisoned except from Dickens himself. Dickens received very little formal education and taught himself shorthand. Dickens became a reporter of parliamentary debate for the Morning Chronicle. Dickens then began to publish periodicals in the paper.
He started writing for the Pipwick Papers which soon became popular. Dickens then started to write novels such as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. Dickens had his first setback when ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ turned out to be unpopular.
He then wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ to re-establish his popularity. Dickens describes the teaching of facts and the importance of facts through Mr. Gradgrind. Mr. Gradgrind only wants the children to be taught facts. “Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life”. Mr. Gradgrind is so obsessed with teaching facts he even brings up his own children on facts. “This is the principle on which I bring up my own children”. Mr. Gradgrind sees the children as little plants growing “plant nothing else and root out everything else” he only wants children to learn facts he doesn’t want to let them have any imagination.
Mr. Gradgrind doesn’t even let his own children have any imagination and doesn’t even let them have nursery rhyme books or toys instead they are only allowed factual things. “The little Gradgrinds had cabinets in various departments of science too”. The school inspector shares the same views as Mr. Gradgrind but is a bit more obsessed with it. He is “a professed pugilist” this means he is like a professional warrior and he is fighting for the teaching of facts. He is considered “an ugly customer” a man whom you wouldn’t argue with. The inspector has been given the right by the government to change the world into a factual place.
The inspector thinks that living in a factual kind of place is wonderful “You are to be in all things regulated and governed by fact” this means that he also only wants facts to be known, followed and taught in life he doesn’t want people to have imagination. The inspector wants to fill everyone up with facts and get rid of common sense, fancy and imagination. Mr. M’Choakumchild, the new teacher, had just finished a teacher training course in which he and many others had been taught a lot of facts as though it was a factory.
He was taught things such as orthography, etymology, syntax and prosody, biography, astronomy and many more. He and some other one hundred and forty other school masters had been lately turned out at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs” this mean that Mr. M’Choakumchild and the other teachers had all been taught the same things making them practically identical in their knowledge.
They all were taught facts. In Charles Dickens’ opinion Mr. M’Choakumchild had learnt too much and would have taught better if he hadn’t learnt as much as the facts were practically drilled into him. “Ah, rather overdone Mr. M’Choakumchild if only he had learnt less how infinitely better he would have taught much more”. In my own personal opinion, Dickens is very paradoxical at this point, as he mentions in Gradgrinds words that “Facts alone are wanted in life” were as here in Mr. M’Choakumchild’s case he is saying that Mr. M’Choakumchild has been taught far too many facts to teach efficiently. This in itself seems ambiguous and indistinguishable of what Dickens is trying to say.
Does Gradgrind want persons to know facts and facts alone or does he only engage in this malicious manner of teaching to please his own satisfactions?
Charles Dickens shows the reader how the school is affecting the pupils through the eyes of Sissy Jupe and Bitzer. Sissy Jupe was a new girl at the school and had quite an irksome first day. Sissy Jupe actually went to Mr. Gradgrinds house to ask if she may go to the school. The first thing that happens is she is referred to as “Girl number twenty” which makes gives the reader the image that she has lost her individuality. When she tells Mr. Gradgrind that her name is Sissy Jupe he doesn’t permit her to call herself Sissy. “Sissy is not a name,”… “Don’t call yourself Sissy call yourself Cecilia”.
Mr. Gradgrind also says that Sissy’s father has no business in calling her Sissy. Mr. Gradgrind also asks her difficult questions and just springs then upon her when she isn’t expecting it for example he says “Give me your definition of a horse”. Sissy is not allowed to talk about her father’s job when she tells Mr. Gradgrind that her father belongs to the horse riding which is another name for the circus. Mr. Gradgrind waves off this response “we don’t want to know anything about that here”. This is because Mr. Gradgrind sees the circus as non-factual therefore he feels it serves no purpose in life.
Mr. Gradgrind then practically re-writes her background by trying to change her father’s job to make it sound better for example “Very well he is a veterinary surgeon, a farriery and a horse-breaker”. She really has a bad first day and the thing that shows it is when Charles Dickens talks about her blushing “She curtseyed again, and would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed more than she had blushed all this time”. In comparison to Sissy, Bitzer seems to have a more successful time at school. Bitzer has obviously been at the school longer as he seems to know a lot of facts and the system.
On the first impression you think that Bitzer must be very smart but then you realize this information has just been drilled into him and he has learnt the trigger to which he must answer. The trigger in this case is “Bitzer your definition of a horse”. It is to this trigger that Bitzer replies “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shad with iron. Age known by marks in mouth”. Bitzer hasn’t really learnt it or knows what it means he is just repeating it and is almost robotic.
Dickens describes Bitzer as being pale this may be for the reason that he lives in Coketown, which is an industrial place but this is also on a parallel to the fact that not only is his colour drained from his living in Coketown but his imagination is being drained out of him because of the school he goes to. Whereas Sissy on the other hand still has pink cheeks because she still has her imagination and opinion as her conversation with the school inspector shows. ‘Hard Times’ is a difficult read for the modern reader as the English language has changed since Dickens’ time.
Also because so much time has passed there are some parts in which you don’t know what Dickens is talking about and need to know the background. An example of this is in the last paragraph of chapter 2 where Dickens talks about ‘Morgiana and the Forty Thieves’ you would need to know the background before you could understand what Charles Dickens is talking about. In the story of ‘Morgiana and the Forty Thieves’ the thieves jump into little vessels and Morgiana pours hot oil into the vessels to find the thieves. Also in this time they would call a circus the horse riding which is what you would need to know before reading the book.
This is because the book was written 150 years ago. Dickens also likes to use very long sentences and subordinate clauses. An example of a long sentence with subordinate clause in which he links together with commas, semi-colons or hyphens is “A mighty man at cutting and drying, he was; a government officer; in his way (and in most other peoples too), a professed pugilist; always in training, always with a system to force down the general throat like a bolus, always to be heard of at the bar of his little Public-office, ready to fight all England”.
Dickens is a satirical writer who writes social comments. In this book ‘Hard Times’ Dickens is criticizing the industrial north and how workers are exploited. He is also criticizing utilitarianism, the idea that everything must have a purpose (must be proved), and how it is not good for the children. ‘Hard Times’ is difficult to read as it was written 150 years ago and the language has changed a lot since then. ‘Hard Times’ is also very descriptive. Charles Dickens uses a lot of imagery in this book and gives so much detail that if you bothered to you could draw a picture of what he is describing.
Dickens uses some of the images throughout the chapters and keeps referring back to the image. This is called an extended metaphor. An example of an extended metaphor is “to the little pitchers before him” he also refers to this image later on “looking into all the vessels ranged before him”. This is referring to the children as being little empty jugs that need filling with facts. Another image that Dickens writes is about Mr. Gradgrind being square and canon like. “Square coat, square legs, square shoulders,” and “he seemed a kind of canon loaded to the muzzle with facts”.
This is a good description as you can just imagine Mr. Gradgrind shooting all these facts into the children and the children being like little jugs in a line ready for Gradgrind to fill them with facts. He uses a lot of repetition for the images and keeps mentioning the images throughout the story. In conclusion one of Dickens’ purposes of writing ‘Hard Times’ was to make a social comment about the idea of utilitarianism in the teaching system. It is the teaching of facts excluding imagination, fantasy and understanding.
This type of teaching is supported by Mr. Gradgrind, the school inspector and the teacher (Mr. M’Choakumchild). ‘Hard Times’ is a criticism of teaching facts to young fresh minds which produces flawed characters for example Louisa, Tom and Bitzer. Dickens is trying to say that education should produce well rounded humans that are ready to take an active part in society. Dickens has succeeded in doing this in the opening chapters even though the kind of language he uses is difficult to read as it is different to modern day language.