There are many themes within the book ‘Hard Times’ By Charles Dickens. These themes vary from education to wealth, work, leisure, morality, poverty, class and fact verses fancy. The main theme in the play, I believe, is family and it is on this theme that this essay will be based. Family is mentioned constantly through out the book, for example Cecilia Jupe ends up going to live with Mr Thomas Gradgrind and his family when her father goes out one day and never returns. In the book there are four main families each with there own set ways of life. The first and main family are the Gradgrinds.
This family consists of Mr.Gradgrind, Mrs. Gradgrind and their five children. Mr Gradgrind has a ‘square wall of a forehead…. square coat…. square legs…. square shoulders’ and an ‘obstinate carriage’. Mrs Gradgrind is a ‘little, thin, white, pink eyed bundle of shawls, of surpassing feebleness, mental and physical’. Each little Gradgrind was a model student and a child of fact, each taught that to learn was the object of life. The second family who also feature a lot in the book are not really a family but a man and his housekeeper, Mr Bounderby and Mrs Sparsit. Although they are not related Mrs Sparsit is almost like a wife or mother to Mr Bounderby.
She cares for him and indulges him when he starts one his long ‘ I had to work hard to get where I am’ speeches. She even goes to the length of stalking Mr Bounderby’s wife as she is waiting for her to do something wrong. She continues to do this even after she is no longer working in Bounderby’s house. Mr Bounderby is a ‘rich man: banker, merchant’ and a ‘manufacturer’. He was a big, loud man with a stare and a metallic laugh. With a ‘great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples and such a strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open and lift his eyebrows’.
Mrs Sparsit, a widow, was elderly lady with a ‘Coriolonian style of nose’ and ‘dense black eyebrows’ and was a prominent figure. Although she is Bounderby’s housekeeper she is of a much higher social class than he is. The only reason she works for Bounderby is because when her husband died he left her deeply in debt and she did not want to rely on her only family, an elderly aunt. ‘It is true, Sir,’ returned Mrs Sparsit, with an affectation of humility the very opposite of his, and therefore in no danger of jostling it.
‘ Bounderby takes great pleasure in the fact that he has a housekeeper that is above him in status, as he himself claims to have started life in the gutter (literally) which you later find is completely untrue. The third family are also unrelated but have a very close bond. They are the circus people. The owner of the circus is Mr Sleary, a stout man with one fixed eye and one loose eye, a voice ‘like the efforts of a broken pair of bellows’ with a lisp and ‘a muddled head which was never sober and never drunk’.
Some other members of this circus ‘family’ who are briefly mentioned are, Mr Childers, Master Kidderminster, Sissy, her father, Emma Gordon and Josephine. Although not very intelligent or tidy in their personal habits ‘there was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special ineptitude for any kind of sharp practise, and an untiring readiness to help or pity one another’. Also the fact that they will stick together no matter and will always be there for each other supports the idea that they are like a family or are a family to each other.
The fourth and final family, who are only briefly mentioned, are Cecilia Jupe and her father. You do not have the opportunity of seeing this family together as one of the first things you are told about Sissy’s father is that he has disappeared and left Sissy on her own, ‘I doubt you will ever see him now. It’s pretty plain to me, he’s off’. Because of this Sissy then has to decide whether to stay with her second ‘family’ the circus or to go and live with Mr Gradgrind and carry on her education.
Sissy’s father had especially wanted her to go to school so she could better herself and it was because of her father’s wishes that she chooses to go with Gradgrind. There is one condition she has to follow though and that is that while she is living under Gradgrind’s roof she must not visit the circus people or have any contact with them. Little does Gradgrind know, but once Sissy moves in with him his family life will change, in his opinion for the worse but in actual fact as he later finds out it was for the better.