The opening schoolroom scene in Dickens novel Hard Times brings us straight to one of the novel’s most significant themes, education. The novel starts with the voice of a headmaster, Tomas Gradgrind, ‘Now what I want is facts, teach these boys and girls nothing but facts.’ He is addressing a class in what is known as his ‘model school’. Here, and through out the first chapter, he insists on the value of facts and that imagination and fancy is not allowed in life. Hard Times is a novel of Dickens insight on childhood and therefore education at the time he wrote it. He includes his beliefs on romanticism and empiricism in 1854. This is explored using several techniques such as, repetition, metaphors, similes, long, convoluted sentences, and the beliefs of a main subject through out the story, fact and imagination.The story is set in a dark and gloomy industrial town called ‘Coketown’ during the industrial revolution.
The industrialism has been portrayed through the name of the town, ‘Coke’ meaning the unwanted substances left over from producing iron. Coketown is not described in great detail until after the second chapter. The first and second chapter, concentrate on introducing us to the main themes and subjects. Dickens wrote the novel at the highpoint of the industrial revolution, at the time people were worried that their jobs could be replaced by machines, so they travelled to bigger cities to try and find work.This meant that the population of cities increased causing them to become overcrowded.
This is how Coketown is portrayed later in the novel. Factories were usually found in the bigger cities, it was in these bigger cities most work could be found. Factory work would be demanding and dull as most of it would be operating machinery, so the labourers had to be hardworking and prepared to work long hours as more produce would be needed if there was a larger population.Dickens has included this issue in the story.
Coketown is a perfect example of a typical industrial town. The townspeople have been affected by the environment in which the live in, they are miserable and dull. As a direct result of this the children are growing up to be the same. The demands that were typically found in factories soon began to appear in the educational system. This was because children at school would find work in factories at an early age, so in a sense school was like a training program for pupils who would soon be going to work.The classroom in which this training takes place is described as a ‘plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom’ the word ‘vault’ is a metaphor suggesting that the classroom is an empty space used for storage. There is no room for any decoration in the room, any more than there is room for imagination in the training of the scholars.
All attention is focused on facts; we are told the principle of education is to fill the ‘little vessels’ with facts. Dickens is describing the pupils as ‘little vessels’ meaning they are empty containers there to be filled. This relates to John Locke’s theory containing ideas that the mind is like a blank sheet of paper that we have to fill it with knowledge.The two main children in the first two chapters are Sissy and Bitzer.
A deep contrast is shown between the two and Dickens often compares them, Sissy is described as ‘so dark-eyed and dark-haired’ whereas Bitzer is described as ‘so light-eyed and light-haired.’ Gradgrind sees Bitzer as a model pupil, but he has made it clear he does not agree with the way Sissy has been brought up. For example, When Gradgrind asks for Sissy’s name she introduces herself as Sissy Jupe. Gradgrind takes offence at her given name and insists she calls herself Cecilia, ‘Sissy is not a name … Don’t call yourself Sissy.
Call yourself Cecilia.’When she points out her Father calls her Sissy Gradgrind begins to question her about her Father. She openly tells him he works with horses in a circus, Gradgrind does not agree with the circus as it is seen as an imaginative place and finds another way of describing Sissy’s Fathers occupation, ‘Very well then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier ad housebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse’ He moves away from the subject demanding a definition of a horse from Sissy, she fails to do this but Bitzer does, with a perfect dictionary definition. Wee are told Sissy was embarrassed by this, ‘She curtseyed again, and would of blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time.’ ‘Blushed’ is repeated several times to emphasise this.
Dickens has used the beam of sunlight in the second chapter to highlight the physical difference between Sissy and Bitzer. Sissy is described as having, ‘a deeper more lustrous colour from the sun’ but Bitzer, ‘the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed.’ Bitzer seems very bleak, like the rest of the townspeople, but Sissy seems more colourful and imaginative as deeper words and colours are used to describe her. Sissy is one of Dickens’s heroines; she is pure and innocent.
She is immediately associated with heavenly light and I are told the ray of light ‘irradiated’ her. Both Sissy and Bitzer are seen later on in the novel, Sissy a lot more than Bitzer. But Gradgrind has taken in Sissy, as her father abandoned her, she is now a friend to him and his family. Bitzer is not seen a lot, he was involved in the attempted arrest of Gradgrind and has therefore betrayed Gradgrind. Bitzer’s character never fully develops, he is unfeeling and unimaginative from the beginning to the end.We are first introduced to Gradgrind’s voice at the start of the novel. He is teaching a large class with his sentiments about facts and the need for a pragmatic view of the world, this for him is what a sound education is all about.
His appearance is threatening and unattractive, he is accompanied by two other adults, a schoolmaster, the other anonymous. The first description Dickens gives of Gradgrind uses repetition and builds an image of a bold, stern man straight away, ‘The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead ..
.The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth…The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice…The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair.
..’ Repetition of ‘The emphasis was helped by’ gives the description a harsh tone and therefore we relate this to Gradgrind. Dickens also uses long, convoluted sentences, ‘and the speakers square forefinger emphasised his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve’ and ‘The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders’ Again repetition is used, and the fact that Gradgrind is ‘square’ gives the reader a feeling that he is sharp and precise with edges that can not be softened.
This idea is furthered by the precise way he speaks, ‘Now what I want is facts.’Dickens makes ‘Facts’ a proper noun in Gradgrind’s speech, making the reader understand the teacher considers ‘Fact’ an individual area of study. Gradgrind’s name grabs our attention straight away, ‘grad’ refers to the pupils but as graduates, it also concerns us with the different stages of our lives. The ‘grind’ refers to him being an educator and he will grind the graduates. Gradgrind never intentionally hurts anyone and as a result of him taking Sissy in, shows a more sensitive side to Gradgrind.