Mirrors Dickens contempt for empiricism

“When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to have all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under murdered, in accordance with what he had learnt from the Magi” This extract from the Bible is about when King Herod the Great ordered that all boys under two be murdered therefore “Murdering the innocents”. This links into ‘Hard Times’ because the teachers are ‘murdering’ the children’s imagination.

The first two chapters of ‘Hard Times’ are set in a Victorian empiricist school. There is very little description of the classroom itself. Although it does tell you that the room has: “…ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely whitewashed room” This tells you that the room is very stark and plain and unimaginative. I think Dickens included this because the teacher’s frown upon imagination so it reflects what the teachers are creating them like, blank dull and unimaginative. This mirrors Dickens contempt for empiricism.

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Characters The main character in ‘Hard Times’ is Sissy Jupe. Sissy Jupe is the daughter of Signor Jupe, a member of the Circus. Sissy is like a child should be, full of imagination and life. In this book Sissy’s physical description is used in contrast to another character called Bitzer who is a student at the school. “The girl was so dark eyed and dark haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun when it shone upon her.” In this description Dickens is saying that Sissy looks healthy, tanned and she seems to absorb sunlight. I think Dickens has described Sissy like he has because Sissy is an example of a romanticist child, full of imagination and life, Dickens thinks that children should be like Sissy so he gave her a good healthy description. This is what Dickens had to say about Bitzer.

“The boy was so light eyed and light haired that the self same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed… His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in natural twinge that he looked as though, if he were cut he would bleed white.” Dickens’s description of Bitzer is the complete opposite of his description of Sissy. Sissy is healthy and colourful where as Bitzer is pale and white looking. Dickens has created him like this because he Bitzer in an empiricist child and Dickens thinks that is wrong so he has given Bitzer an unhealthy description.

In the second chapter Mr Grabgrind refers to Sissy as “Girl number twenty”, thus maintaining an impersonal relationship between pupil and student. This also gives Sissy no identity. Identity comes with imagination and charisma is not what the school wants. When Sissy tells Mr Grabgrind her name he replies:”Sissy is not a name. Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia”.  Sissy is not a very common name but just because it’s not normal she shouldn’t have to change it. Sissy is a shy self-conscious girl. You can tell this because Dickens uses these phrases when writing about her physical behaviour:

“Trembling voice” and “She curtseyed again, and would have blushed deeper if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time.” Both extracts come from the part where Mr Grabgrind asks Sissy for the definition of a horse and she is alarmed by this demand. She is unable to answer, so Mr Grabgrind asks Bitzer instead, “Quadruped Gramnivorous. Forty teeth, namely, Twenty-four grinder, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.”

Bitzer’s answer is purely factual involving no imagination. Bitzer’s name gives you an insight into what he is like. He is full of bits of facts; I think this is where the name came from. Bitzer is an example of a model student at the school. He is unhealthy looking. I think Dickens is trying to say that this is not the way children should be. They should be more like Sissy. Mr Grabgrind is a retired wholesale hardware merchant who owns the school in which Sissy is taught. He believes in fact and fact alone. Dickens keeps describing his “square forefinger”. This emphasises the square’s hard sharp unforgiving shape.

He is described as a: “Cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of children at one charge.” This is describing how he is full of fact and how intent he is in filling children full of fact. It also is a reference to the military precision in which he runs his school. He tests the children about the use of fact in life, about why you would not have a carpet or wall paper with representation of something that you would not have on your wall or floor in real life. There is a teacher in the school called Mr M’choakumchild. Mr M’choakumchild’s name gives an insight into what he is like with children. He chokes their imagination out of them. In the end of the second chapter he is described like “Morgiana”