How does Dickens show his dislike for the education system in Hard Times? What is the effect of this system on Louisa? Does she manage to resist her very utilitarian upbringing? In the novel Hard Times, set in ‘Coke Town’ written in 1854, Dickens explores his own ideas of the poverty-ridden, factory towns of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. The book is based on family and it also shows the detail of the social standards of the time, poverty, the difficulty of life and the tough education system.
Education at this time was difficult and hard to enjoy for those children who wanted to explore fantasy and surrealism; those with active or overactive imaginations. The reason was that the education system at this time was purely factual. The education that Louisa and her younger brother Thomas receive in this book is an education based on facts, this Charles Dickens seems to detest. I think Dickens may not have liked this type of education because it eliminated all sorts of fantasy and surrealism.
Being a fiction author, I think that he would find this annoying as he used his imagination to create his books. I think this may be one of his motives for writing the book. One of the main characters in the book itself, Thomas Gradgrind (Senior) states that the education of children should be ‘Facts, facts, facts,’ nothing more, nothing less than facts. His young daughter Louisa does not seem to be fond of this statement and does not like to hear her father say it. When she is at home she is given all sorts of instruments to use by her father.
She seems to dismiss the idea of using them, whereas her brother Thomas obeys by his fathers orders, showing no reluctancy, perhaps this is because he is a boy and his father would like him to succeed and become as successful as him, after all they share the same name. Fantasy books, creative writing and anything supernatural would not even be considered in the minds of the teachers. The pupils were taught about economic issues, the government and mathematical figures. They were also taught some politics. Their education was limited, and it did not allow their minds to stretch to the boundaries of fantasy and fiction.
Charles Dickens portrays this in the book well; we gain an (If quite limited) understanding of the poorer children’s view on education. But people in poverty hardly enter the book in terms of views on education. In Dickens view the children in the classroom are being prepared to be yet more workers in one of the many factories in Coke Town. Louisa is a child who seems to have a passion for surrealism and imagination, and would probably be found daydreaming at times. I think that this type of education would then be difficult for her, and even more difficult that her father was the main enforcer of the facts.
We realise that she has a passion for everything creative when she and her brother are caught peeping at the circus. She almost stands up to her father, but I think she is scared of his power so she decides against it. The education the children are receiving is not helping them to develop a creative mind with ambition for jobs in high up places. No, the education the children are receiving is based on facts and nothing but. This kind of education does not prepare them for the real world; it prepares them for a life of working in the drab factories of Coketown.
Dickens does not really encounter education for children in poverty in this book. Dickens’s view on the education system and schools is that they are where any trace of imagination and wonder are extracted from the children, and replaced by pure facts. This makes us ponder the question: did Charles Dickens believe that an education was to be void of all facts, or did he believe that fact mixed with fiction was the correct way to educate children? Dickens shows his opinions very clearly throughout the book.
The repetition of the word “facts” all throughout the book, the way it is said and how the facts are being ground deeper and deeper into the children’s minds, shows us his dislike to this system. Louisa is a victim of the education system. This is quite ironic, seeing as her father is the very man trying to enforce facts upon her and her classmates. Being an imaginative, creative child, interested in the circus, colour and arts she gets caught in the web of facts and struggles to escape. We see her frustration towards her father and society as a whole grow and develop throughout each part of the book.
Dickens makes the reader question Gradgrind’s method of teaching and education and lets the reader decide if it is right or wrong by the evidence Dickens gradually reveals during the course of the book. Charles Dickens creates a character whose teaching methods are quite different from the education system these days. Dickens has created a character, which is disliked by many, both in attitude and appearance. Gradgrind is described to be ‘square. ‘ ‘Square wall of a forehead’ Dickens has used this imagery so the reader perceives Gradgrind as a very dull and square character.
Dickens has described Gradgrind as a square man as it forces you to imagine a man with boundaries, and four straight walls with equal sides, nothing more nothing less. In this way he portrays Gradgrind as a formal man, which helps you with the impression that he is a man of facts. Each chapter is cleverly titled. They give us insight into Dickens view of the events taking place in that specific chapter. ‘Murdering the innocents’ is an example of Dickens putting his view into the titles. This is a clear indication that he thinks the planting of facts and the lack of imagination involved is not good and is not right.
He thinks this is essentially killing the children, who are innocent because they have thoughts which are pure, and these pure thoughts include imagination. The fact that this innocence is being taken away from them and they are turning into adolescents means that they are entering a world of dishonesty, fault and failure. Dickens also portrays the characters true traits through their names. ‘Mr. Gradgrind’ and ‘Mr. M’Choakumchild’ are both examples of this. We can tell by the naming of the characters that they are both strong and most likely intimidating or cruel.
“Gradgrind” implies the gradual grinding of facts into the children’s heads. Dickens uses these names as imagery. From ‘Mr. M’Choakumchild” we obviously imagine the choking of a child. This gives us the impression that he does not like children and that he chokes them of their imagination. It makes you believe that he would not permit them to have their own thoughts of creativity but stick to facts and facts alone. I think Dickens has done this to inform the reader early on that these characters are not in the right and to hopefully give us the same impression of this education system as him.
Certain pupils get treated differently to others in Coketown’s school. It appears that how well you are treated in the school depends on your social status. Sissy Jupe is involved with the circus; she is rather looked down upon by the teachers because of this. She is referred to as girl number 20, whereas someone from a better background may be called by his or her real name. Her relationship with Louisa later on in the story also tells a tale of its own about class and how people are treated. Bitzer is treated with respect within the education system because he is of higher class, although not much higher than that of Sissy Jupe.
He is quick to answer questions in class with straight facts, and this pleases the teachers. His knowledge of facts and the fact he is from a wealthier family determines his status and amount of respect he is given by teachers and students alike. Because of this division between the two characters we see them progress throughout the book watching how they both change and develop under the same system. Bitzer follows and abides by the rules of facts, with his pale visage and his eagerness to please.
He is a teacher’s pet and is eager to learn and get in their good books- not ashamed to suck up to get where he wants to be. He is a very eager boy, and his pale appearance and large eyes give him a strange owlish appearance. In contrast Louisa rebels is a small but healthy, normal looking child, rebelling against the rules, longing for freedom and wishing to use her imagination and explore fantasy. In conclusion I think that Dickens has written the book ‘Hard Times’ in such a way that the reader empathises and understands the hardship of an education based purely on facts.
He has written the book in such a way that you agree with his opinions on the system and you agree with his dislike of the education system. He makes you dislike the system, but not in an obvious way and he does it subtly throughout the book so that you agree with him all the way through. He uses subtle descriptions and techniques, which make the reader agree with his opinions. The way he uses chapter titles and characters names, the way Sissy and Louisa struggle through the system all add to your understanding of Dickens views.
From the beginning of the book till the end, Louisa shows signs of wanting to explore the unknown, fantasy and fiction, but because of the current education system and her father being at the head of it, Louisa struggles to do this. Louisa finds that she cannot suppress her imagination whilst maintaining the rules of the system, and as she grows up she finds it easier to stand up to her father. Throughout the book, Louisa does anything to please her brother because of the factor of male dominance: she will try and get him out of trouble and help him as much as she can.
In a way she almost sees him as an older brother, or someone to look out for, who may in turn look out for her. At the end, she finally becomes loose of the shackles and facts that are binding her and can express herself imaginatively and creatively. Thomas Gradgrind Louisa both have incredibly opposite opinions. They grow together throughout the book and although Gradgrind is the main enforcer of facts, his daughter Louisa opens his eyes to the fact that imagination, creativity and fantasy are to be embraced in the education system, and not abolished from the minds of the young.