Dickens’ novel Hard Times is based in Coketown, a small industrial area. The story takes place during the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. The book is not only about how the industrial revolution changed the way we live but also about how society and education was revolutionised because of it. In the first two chapters Dickens writes about the main characters, Bitzer, Sissy, Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild and how the revolution industrialised education. They also show us what the Victorians outlook was on education, “Fact fact fact!” The characters all represent different aspects of society. Bitzer described as “light-eyed and light-haired” this is opposite to Sissy who is said to be “dark-eyed and dark-haired”. This shows us that she could be of Mediterranean origin, again showing the audience, how different she is.
Bitzer although not described as looking very knowledgeable, due to her “Light-eyed and light-haired” seems to be actually “bright” educationally, the way which most pupils have great potential but do not use it. He defines a horse perfectly and Sissy does not know. When the book first introduces us to M’Choakumchild he is not even given the dignity of a name, he is just the “third gentlemen” in the government office. As the chapter progresses we start to learn more about his character, in fact a whole paragraph is devoted to him but he is still only “The third gentlemen”.
When we first meet him he is said to be “A mighty man at cutting and drying, he was a government officer”. We can already see that he has an air of authority about him. “Always in training, always with a system”. This is a reflection of teachers in today’s modern society, they are the system, a machine, and the children have to follow this. The description given is ridiculous as it is extremely exaggerated and makes a mockery of teachers everywhere, “the speakers square wall of a forehead”. The way in which Dickens describes Gradgrind creates a visual image for the audience. Dickens does this to show that Gradgrind is intimidating to the “little vessels” that are his pupils.
The way Dickens structures his sentences in the first two chapters with different formats of writing sets the scene of a classroom perfectly. Repetition is used a lot in this section of the book to simulate the atmosphere of a classroom. “Fact” is said a lot and “Facts” would be drummed into the “little vessels” heads. The classroom is described as a “vault”, suggesting the atmosphere and the feelings that the children had to deal with under the reign of Mr. Gradgrind and his supporting staff. It also shows how education was during this period of time, the students were suffocated with facts.
In the second chapter of Hard Times Dickens talks about how the classroom is lit. He writes about how the light changes Sissy from a “dark-eyed and dark-haired” girl into something radiant and “drawing all the light from the room”. He makes both Sissy and Bitzer appear to stand out from the rest of the group, hence them being asked the question. This is another example of Dickens’ use of vocabulary where he uses adjectives and descriptive writing to its full potential.
This reflects on what happens in classrooms today, the people who try and hide still get asked the questions. The ray of light reflects the way Dickens runs his school. Dickens, a romanticist, made the education system of his time over exaggerated. He was trying to get his points across about the way that he thought the education system was dealt with and writing a book was his way of protesting. This is one of the things I like as he manages to get his opinion across in a very sly way but effective.
The supporting staff comprises of M’Choakumchild. His name alone suggests he is part of Gradgrind’s diabolical education system, the children so full of facts they are almost overflowing. The children them selves are being “choked” into learning by M’Choakumchild and Gradgrind, They are described as “little-vessels” which is very appropriate to the time. As the story is set in the industrial revolution, the period of mass production, the children being known as vessels shows how they were bought up. There was obviously no care and attention like in modern society, only getting them in and out as fast as the teachers, Gradgrind & M’Choakumchild could.
Dickens also uses the theme of teachers being mass-produced, allying the idea of industry to education. M’Choakumchild is said to be produced like a piano leg, “”one hundred and forty other school masters, had been lately turned at the same time”. They are described as being produced on a large scale giving the thought of the teachers being manufactured. This is being passed down to the children or “little-vessels” who are only being taught “Fact”.
I think this book was written as a sly way of Dickens getting his point across of how the education system in Britain of the industrial revolution was very oppressed and not being dealt with in the way he would personally prefer. The way which the teachers are exaggerated, Gradgrind is described in such detail it makes him sound like a classroom himself, “hidhiaheihfwehifwerhrehi, with a square forehead”. Everything in the room reflecting on the fact that it’s a school. Reinforcing the fact of the way the children would have felt.