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Charles Dickens ”Hard Times”

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When we look at education today, we see more than just reading, writing and solving numerous calculations, sometimes providing more than one answer for a question. Your opinions and views actually count for something and are appreciated. We have so many resources, culture and trips bought into education; that children can actually look forward to coming to school, each teacher having various ways of teaching, each pupil having a different way of comprehending and learning.

The novel ‘Hard Times’ is set in the nineteenth century. It was a time where education did not have the developments as we have nowadays. It was not compulsory for all ages and it was offered to the wealthier, more than the working class who did go to school, but the need of children working was more important, in the eyes of some people.

In this essay I am going to explore the representation of education of that era, how Charles Dickens portrays it, and what part it played in the characters lives. Can education mould you into who you are?

Hard Times is set in an industrial fictional town called Coketown, in the North of England.

Dickens represents education as an important factor of life; what you learn as a child, lives through you, to the day you die. It’s hard to change habits you develop in your youth.

“Now what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts” states Gradgrind. It makes you realise what kind of way the pupils were taught, in the nineteenth century.

Learning was so cold, strict and harsh. Facts were important, always having the correct answer; the answer that teachers wanted to hear was the only way.

“Plant nothing else and root out every thing else. You can form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of service to them, “Gradgrind stresses. The sentences make you realise what kind of way theĀ pupils were encouraged to be taught. They would be given the basic needs like a plant requires water, sun and nutrition, but what about all that care, love and attention? This also proves how the children were not allowed to develop their creativity their individualities, as every thing else, expect for facts was discouraged and rooted out of them. I believe that Dickens does not agree with this as through the story the narrator’s voice comes through. A big example of this is in chapter two, when he talks about Mr.M’Choakumchild, “If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!” This is the voice of the narrator, Dickens himself.

Straight away through the novel, there is this obvious repetition, that doesn’t bore you but surprisingly has a bigger effect on you. For me it reminds me of school and how teachers repeat things over and over again. Dickens uses a lot of repetition to indicate and push these ideas forward, so that your view is basically made up for you. Dickens doesn’t really allow you to make up your own opinion; basically I sense that his voice has a big influence over the reader’s opinion.

“NOW” as the first paragraph starts, makes such an impact on the reader, you already feel that presence of authority, as if someone is shouting, reminding you of teachers or someone in charge. I feel that this as a good way to start as it does grab your attention.

“The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom.” This description of the school’s classroom makes you wonder, who would enjoy coming to a place like this to learn? Not like these days, where children’s work is put up on walls, and there’s a more creative air. It is perceived as plain, bare and boring. Where is that presence of life? Sitting in a room all day that has no liveliness, no atmosphere or colour reflects on the children; they are all so average and mundane just like the knowledge they are fed. The “monotonous vault” sounds as if it is just a description of a prison, as if the pupils are trapped in something so grim.

Descriptions like these indicate a boring, strict and dreary education. TheĀ room sounds simple, the philosophy of the education in the novel is simple-“Facts” and nothing else. Everyone has the same answer when it comes to facts. What about the childhood fun? The nursery rhymes? Having their own interpretation, the uniqueness of a child? The right to think about things and seeing things more as than what they appear to be?

Chapter one, where the children are referred too as “little vessels then and there… full to the brim,” makes them sound like nothing but guinea pigs, and I think Dickens feels that we are more than that and deserve appreciation, and equality.

In the second chapter where Bitzer (Bitzer being one of the pupils in the classroom) describes a horse “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth……….by marks in mouth.” Is that a horse? That’s not the usual description of a child’s view of a horse. There is no love, no understanding of that connection between humans and animals that has always been there. It just shows that the education being taught was just so cold. It’s as if you give a poor man a house of his own, water and food, you’ve given him a life. What kind of life is it? Waking up, eating and sleeping, where are all the parts in between that actually make life worth living? Where are all those parts of education that make it so enjoyable?

Sissy is another of Gradgrind’s pupils, she is different to Bitzer as she is more imaginative than him, and is the one who is seen as a failure in class. When Sissy answers the question about the horse you realise that even though she has been brought up by education in a certain way she still has that emotion and fantasy of a child. Maybe it’s the up bringing she has from her so-called family who work in a circus, which allows her to still be creative. Even though deep down, Sissy knows that her father is not going to come back, because of her inner spirit, that idea of a fairy tale ending is present and she still believes he will. Being such an affectionate person, Sissy is even adored more than Tom and Louisa by their mother, I think that this really comes through when Mrs Gradgrind is dying.

I understand that in those days, many jobs were less adventurous and creativeĀ than now. The jobs we have now offer such a wider variety of tastes, and the education back then would have needed to fit the requirements for jobs they had. But education gives you the philosophy to life and I think Dickens is trying to say education is more than just knowing all the facts, numbers and scientific knowledge, education has a greater depth than that.

Dickens makes a big comparison between Sissy and Bitzer in the novel because they are so different. Sissy is the one I feel Dickens believes every child should be like, imaginative and full of zest. Through the way she is portrayed in chapter two with the sun making her glow, her radiating with her dark hair and eyes sounding so magnificent, you can see the purpose of this is to make you believe that she is so special. Whereas Bitzer, the clever one, full of facts, the one who I think Dickens believes represents the types of children being corrupted and robbed of their childhood by this harsh type of education. Bitzer is portrayed as ill, sickly, his pale hair, his pale skin, sat in corner away from the sun, not glowing. It is as if he were cut he would ‘bleed white’, giving you this repulsive image of a child. From this you can already see who out of the two is better off than the other. Sissy is seen as the failure and Bitzer as the success but in later life, Dickens shows how her humanly shines through and makes her a better person.

In the novel the words used to describe Gradgrind “square” “dry” “dictatorial” “stubborn” “inflexible with his square coat, square legs, square shoulders” his eyes compared to “dark caves” his mouth described as “wide thin and hard set” do not make him sound like a loving man, someone who is cuddly and affectionate. He gives this image of being frightening, terrifying, he denies any emotional life and needs. Gradgrind seems to be a person who’s unreasonable and controlling who must have his own way.

Everything about the way Mr Bounderby is personified as a boxer, someone who bullies others, can convince people with harsh violence, a person who has no sympathy. “Mighty man” “cutting” “training” “force” “system” “fight” “fistic phraseology” “scratch” “damage” “high authority” “opponent” “fought”.

The names of the characters and chapters in the novel are very clever for they give you this auditory imagery as well as a usual image. It’s as if the nature of the character is reflected by their names. Gradgrind gives you this image of someone who has power. Grad reminds me of grand and you can just imagine someone with a name like that chewing, grinding someone and spitting them out to nothing. When I hear the name M’Choakumchild I get this vision of a person choking a little child. The name Bounderby makes me feel like it’s someone fat and piggish, greedy and mean who has a bald head and a pink complexion. The names of the chapters, are equally effective for example chapter two “Murdering the Innocent” shows how Gradgrind’s effect on his pupils, he is taking their childhood the normal things, those nursery rhymes and fantasies that everyone knows and loves as a child.

Even though Gradgrind comes across as heartless, by taking in Sissy and changing his ways later on through the story, you see that he is not that bad. He is “A man of realties,” “a man of facts and calculations.” Personally I imagine Gradgrind thought that his teaching skills were right as he even brought up his own children in that way.

The way his children are refereed to in the book as “mathematical Tom” and “metallurgical Louisa” I think is very disturbing, for it proves how education was such a big part of their lives. It is not normal that they were not called something more loving and emotional; parents usually have loving and affectionate nick names for their children i.e Ceclia, for Sissy, but Dickens offers harsh and unimaginative terms to describe them.

It was really upsetting that not like usual childhood memories of playing in the park Tom and Lousia’s early childhood memories were of being disciplined and filled with knowledge. It’s as if the innocence and childhood were just snatched away from them. I feel that you still get this a lot from some parents pushing children too far, nowadays.

The effect of this type of education on Tom is that he becomes too selfish. As he doesn’t know about emotions he does not realise the wrong of his actions or feel the guilt when he is involved in the robbery. Tom startsĀ believing money is every thing. He gambles and can no longer get any money from his sister, so he steals from Mr Bounderby who employs him and who is Louisa’s husband. Tom has no emotions and morals so he doesn’t see how he hurts others.. His been brought up to rely on facts, but Tom hasn’t been taught how to express himself talking about his views, so he has no idea of morals or principles hence he has none.

Even though Lousia has been taught the same as her brother, because of her own nature, a thirst of sentiment, and the people she meets she is saved at the end from becoming an outcast in society. She finds herself in a difficult situation where she can not cope. Lousia marries Mr Bounderby, a man she despises and the reason of this marriage is that she feels that it will benefit her brother. She has never been in love and dreamt of that white wedding, so you question why should she feel so upset about marrying Bounderby?

When for the first time Louisa falls in love, because of such strong affection that she hasn’t experienced before she becomes distressed. She doesn’t know about the real tests in life, all she knows is facts. Lousia has a break down and has to beg her father for help because she grows so close to being cut off from society. So the kind of education Tom and Lousia experience as children I believed ruined their lives, but I also think it depends on what kind of person you are, as Lousia isn’t as the same as her brother. In my opinion Tom seems more cold and heartless, Louisa from the outset has shown some responsibility for her brother-he is the only person she truly loves from the start. Maybe Tom being a male, was pushed more into education than his sister by Gradgrind.

In Hard Times Dickens portrays education in the eighteenth hundred as being made of facts, “Facts.” Facts being the only right answer, your personal view counts for nothing it’s worthless and seems so cold and robotic. Every child is seen as the same; every child is just another statistic just like our generation and the next.

Dickens teaches us that education is more than what some people treat it as,Ā I feel it can be a philosophy to life. I learnt how education moulds you to some extent into who you are. You see how parenting and society have such an impact on a person. I believe that from this book you learn that what makes you have the personality you have, is the type of lifestyle you live and the situations you have to deal with.

I think Dickens still believes knowledge is power, it’s just what type of knowledge we have or should have, could be debated.

I believe that Dickens feels that the education system in the eighteen hundreds didn’t work as in his story all the characters who are taught in that way, Louisa and Tom have troubled life when they are grown up. I think that by showing how Sissy succeeds by still having the same education, proves that Dickens believes you can defeat the monotonous dictatorial type of education.

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