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The extended metaphor at the end of the first chapter depicts the children as “vessels” or jars, to be filled to the top with facts until they are full. The metaphor portrays the children as inanimate objects, which shows the reader the arrogance of Gradgrind: “Vessels then and there arranged in order ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.” Dickens describes them as if they are empty and know nothing. Therefore they have to learn facts whether they like it or not.
The short sentences and repetition in the sentences of the opening of the second chapter aids the description of Gradgrind as it shows the reader there is no manipulating this man and what you see is what you get. He will never change his mind. The extended metaphor,” a kind of cannon…away” shows the reader Gradgrind’s idea of how children should be properly educated. He believes that imaginations are “to be stormed away” and children should mature through facts. He is described like a cannon “loaded to the muzzle with facts” this shows the harshness of his character and the machine-like qualities he holds.
Sissy Jupe is described by Dickens as “dark-eyed and dark-haired” her skin is tanned as Sissy has grown up with the circus she has an interesting background and a creative imagination; she is not just “filled with facts”. The colour of her eyes and hair reflects her traveller background. Whereas, Bitzer is described by Dickens as “light-eyed and light-haired.” His skin seems to be white, in contrast to Sissy’s tanned complexion. This description shows the harshness of the Victorian education system, on his appearance. The audience has no sympathy for the coldness of his character even though he is seen as “a model pupil from a model school” by Gradgrind, who has forced out any imagination Bitzer had and filled him with facts. His description of a horse compared to Sissy’s attempt shows the reader the machine-like almost robotic manner in which he is able to reel off facts:
“Quadruped. Graminivorous.” His character is the opposite of Sissy. Gradgrind refers to her as a number, yet to Bitzer by name, as Sissy has only been at the school for a short time, but is referred to as “Girl number twenty” as she is new to the school her education is not as Gradgrind would like it to be, this in turn alienates her. During the fifth chapter, we meet the characters Sissy and Bitzer again as their chase come to a halt when they bump into Gradgrind. After explaining why she was running, Gradgrind comments, as he cannot understand why Sissy should be run after:
“‘Run after?’ repeated Mr Gradgrind. ‘Who would run after you?'” Gradgrind does not know Sissy, and sees her as an outcast. He does not see why she should be run after, and cannot understand why someone would want her. His question is answered when Bitzer enters in the next paragraph. He is described as “the colourless boy”. This creates lack of empathy in the reader towards Bitzer and how he has been manipulated by Gradgrind and the school. As Bitzer is running after Sissy, although described as without fancy (colourless), he still is a child as he was pulling faces to scare Sissy.
Once escorted by Sissy to her home, we see Sissy’s fears of Gradgrind through the way she talks to him. She also seems embarrassed by the state of her home: “This is it, sir, and – if you wouldn’t mind, sir – this is the house.” Sissy’s politeness to Gradgrind, as well as showing a well-mannered child also show how nervous she is around him, and the fear she has of him. Sissy is frightened of Gradgrind as she sees that as she is from a poor lifestyle, because of the shabbiness of her home, she will not be allowed to continue her studies, as those with a proper education will do better in the future. The audience empathises with Sissy because of this.
In conclusion, Gradgrind has a stern manner and is very controlling of his pupils and his children because he is a very hard character he is “a man of realities.” Bitzer is a machine-like character; his white face reflects the coldness of his life with only facts in it. This contrasts to Sissy’s character, which is imaginative, because she lacks the proper formal education Bitzer has received. “Hard Times” is based on, and shows, Dickens’s view of rejection, to the callous determination of Victorian greed. The audience empathises with Sissy the most as her character seems to be lost and the most fragile. The audience do not empathise with Gradgrind because of his stern and cold nature, which, as Bitzer becomes a model student, causes the audience to empathise with neither of the two characters.