Narrow streets Essay
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Dickens shows us that although Louisa and Tom have been repressed and behave dutifully, they still have normal, natural feelings. Louisa is even allowed to express a little of her resentment and rebellion in her reply to her father’s remonstrations when caught watching the circus. This is shown again when Dickens describes the incident when Bounderby asks Louisa for a kiss. Even Tom is described as “sulkily” remonstrating with her but it is made clear that Louisa is the stronger character.
In these ways Dickens takes us below the factual surface of the incidents and we glimpse the children’s true feelings for a moment.
How does Dickens want readers to react to his description of Coketown in Ch. 5? We are introduced to Coketown in the most emotive language. Once again the very name gives the smoky, smelly picture of COKE-town. The adjectives and comparisons he chooses are, like Gradgrind and Bounderby, overbearing and filled with a feeling of all-pervading grimness and practicality. He uses metaphor to connote the fires of hell (“serpents of smoke”, “melancholy madness”) and the theme of monotony and unrelenting repetition is continued through his description of the motion of machinery and the lay-out of the town. Once again repetition of the word “fact”, often ironically, gives the feeling of flatness and unnatural lack of human interest or feeling in the town. This leads the reader to feel a horror of this evil smelling place in which so many poor, working people are not only emotionally repressed, but also physically crushed tightly together in narrow streets.
The opening pages are a social comment on the difference between the abject monotony and poverty of the people working in the mills and the relative comfort of their employers. He uses heavy irony and humour in describing the activities of the people of the town drawing a parallel between their degree of choice and their financial status. While the self-righteous wealthy citizens can indulge themselves in worthy, self-righteous activities such as church going and tea-parties, the listless poor, exhausted by their daily toil, “would get drunk” and took opium. However, living in Coketown, both sets of people are constrained to deny any natural feelings or enjoyment, as life was pragmatic, monotonous and based on “Facts” (with a capital F).
Then suddenly, amidst all this pragmatic boredom, he introduces a band of cheerful, caring, visiting travellers in the form of the circus entertainers; people who have not been choked by the Coketown utilitarian ethic. Dickens professes ironic amusement at their simplicity and sentimentality whilst collusively encouraging the reader to join with him in valuing these humanitarian precepts.
What have you learned about Mr Bounderby in Chs. 4 and 5? From his initial appearance Dickens shows us that Mr Bounderby is somewhat like Mr Gradgrind; he first appears (namelessly) at Gradgrind’s side in the schoolroom. Later, when the children are discovered peeping through the circus tent, Gradgrind admonishes “What would Mr Bounderby say” several times to emphasise the impression that Bounderby is disapproving, self-righteous and opinionated yet holds a position of social power.
Dickens tells us that he is “a rich man, a banker, merchant, manufacturer and what not” and by this last expression (“and what not”) mocks the pompousness of these occupations. He uses irony in “inflated like a balloon” and “Bully of humility” to reduce Bounderby to nothing of any value. The words given to Bounderby are always simultaneously self-deprecating and yet self-congratulatory as he continually reminds us of his humble beginnings, beginnings that Dickens allows him to exaggerate beyond any possibility of belief.
The adjectives applied to Bounderby are even more cold and hard than those used to describe Gradgrind and we are left with an impression of complete heartlessness. Thus, through the devices of irony, exaggeration, metaphor and emotive, derogatory adjectives we understand that Bounderby is a bounder in every sense; dishonest, self-interested pompous, self-absorbed and not to be trusted. Above all he believes, as does Gradgrind, in the sole value of facts and lacks any natural human feelings