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English Literature Essay

Describe the contemporary education system as it appears at the beginning of ‘Hard Times’. How does Dickens show his distaste for this system up to the end of chapter four? Hard Times is like several other Dickens novels, it’s full of social criticism. Writing in the 1850’s, Charles Dickens was focusing mainly on the Industrial Revolution underway. As the title suggests, this novel is all about harsh times. Dickens uses the principle of utilitarianism throughout the novel. Utilitarianism is a philosophy which argues that all human activity, including learning, should be useful in the practical sense.

Dickens is a social critic and all his other novels criticise institutions in some way or another such as in ‘Nicholas Nickelby’. The title ‘Hard Times’ suggests they were living in some really harsh times, what with industrialism on the way. Dickens’ philosophy is shaped from the characters in the book. The two businessmen believe in this philosophy which indicates that when you teach you have to use facts and calculations. This philosophy turns out to be a selfish one, which only focuses on practical learning. Dickens is very aware and understands this society.

He has produced three sections to their novel: – sowing, reaping and garnering. The sowing section is the laying down and scattering of the seeds, mainly the teaching and ideas. This means that you are planting them down for the future and allowing them to grow. The reaping section indicates the harvesting of the seeds and cutting them in order for them to grow quicker. In other words, dickens has taken an agricultural view to portray how the teaching methods are affecting the children. The final section, garnering, is the considering of the lessons that are learned.

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There is a famous saying ‘you reap what you sow’. This perfectly describes this situation with the system and Gradgrind. He reaps what he’s sown, which is his family being torn apart at the end of the novel. We learn that this system is a failing one. It is based mainly on utilitarianism and all they do is force facts onto the children. The aim of the system is to create children who are like models or robots. Mr Thomas Gradgrind is a businessman who has lived by and supports utilitarianism in teaching.

He owns a school which his daughter Louisa and son Thomas attend. The school’s principles are also based on facts but as we realise up to the end of chapter four, this method isn’t working. Dickens gives the name Gradgrind to show us that he is gradually grinding away the children’s freedom. I shall now analyse how dickens shows his distaste for this education system The first chapter is called ‘The One Thing Needful’. Dickens implies that the one thing needful is facts. He is being sarcastic and in doing so, he’s also made the first letter of each word in capitals.

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