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In his novel, Dickens uses a variety of methods to give the reader an insight into his personal views on education. An important way in which he does this is by ridiculing Gradgrind’s way of teaching. Dickens uses a sarcastic tone in order to do this, which is essential to show the reader how he sees Gradgrind and his way of educating children. It is clear from the outset that ‘the one thing needful’ is ‘fact’. This is emphasised by the title of the first book. The ‘facts’ are to be ‘[sowed]’ like seeds into the fertile minds of the young pupils.
Dickens emphasises Gradgrind’s need for facts in the repetition of ‘square’ as a means to describe some of his characteristics. Gradgrind has ‘square fingers’, ‘square legs’ and ‘square shoulders’, emphasising how set he is in his ways and how firmly he believes that ‘facts alone are wanted in life’. At the start of the second chapter Dickens uses the repeated use of Gradgrind’s name, possibly to highlight the harsh alliteration within and to emphasise the monotonous grind of his educational methods. Gradgrind aims to teach his pupils until they are ‘full to the brim’ with facts.
This indicates that he sees no need for the children to experience anything else. By implying that he wishes to ‘plant nothing else’ but facts into the minds of his students he therefore disregards the need for individualism in education. Gradgrind is ‘murdering the [innocent]’ children of their creativity and personal views. The way in which Gradgrind refers to Sissy Jupe as ‘girl number twenty’ shows how against individuality he is and how much he relies on factual references in his life. Gradgrind claims that facts are ‘the principle on which [he] brings up his own children’ and he clearly wants to use this same principle on his pupils.
Dickens uses sarcasm when commenting on Gradgrind’s way of teaching, which indicates that he doesn’t agree with it and has very opposite views to him. Throughout the beginning of the novel ‘fancy’ is personified and therefore it is possible that Dickens is advocating fancy over fact, consequently going against Gradgrind. Sissy Jupe and Bitzer are very important characters because they portray the two extremes of education. Sissy Jupe, who is described to be a ‘dark-eyed and dark-haired’ girl who receives a lustrous colour from the sun, has been brought up in the circus.
Her father specializes in horses and therefore, due to experience, she clearly knows the most about them than any other class member. She goes against everything Gradgrind stands for and when asked to ‘give a definition of a horse’ she is unable to, because of the ridiculousness of the question. Gradgrind immediately asks the same question to Bitzer, gives a monotonous list about horses. He shows no real understanding about horses and has clearly never come in close contact with one, yet despite this his response is clearly favoured by Gradgrind.