Education in Hard Times by Charles DickensGet Your
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The days of childhood are limited, and inevitably everyone will grow old. Yet the way a childhood should be spent has often been disputed, by some regarding it as a time to prepare for the future, and others as a chance to explore freedom. Charles Dickens, in Hard Times, portrays both sides of the argument in their most extreme forms. One might argue that much of Hard Times is about extremes. The first character to be introduced, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, enforces a very rigid approach to education, while everything contrary to his approach is depicted through Sleary’s Circus.
In his school, Mr. Gradgrind uses techniques that have the effect of “mechanizing” the children, aiming to fill their minds with rationales and deplete any fancy. However, he will learn that not all of life’s problems can be figured out through calculation. Dickens allows the reader to see both philosophies in practice, and successfully persuades one to favor neither one nor the other, but a combination of both. “You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. (Dickens19) These words are the harsh reality that the children at Gradgrind’s school are forced to believe. The first of the philosophies that we see Dickens describe is one of immobility and a severe focus on factual information. Mr. Gradgrind, who is the principal of the school in Coketown, is a firm believer in facts and statistics. He has lived his entire life by his own book, and does his best to instill such “values” in his own children as well as in his students. The teachers at his school view their pupils as nothing more than empty vessels that they must fill with information.
Topics such as poetry, fiction, or the fine arts are excluded from the curriculum at Gradgrind’s school, despite the necessity of these to expand and challenge a child’s mind, and imagination. Cecilia Jupe, who throughout the novel is called “Sissy”, is a product of a much different way of life. Sissy comes from Sleary’s Circus. A circus that, counterpart to Gradgrind’s school, represents living freely, compassion and filling life with enjoyment. Surrounded by people such as Mr. Sleary, a fun loving though simple-minded man, Sissy understands that there is more to life that knowledge.
As Sleary states, “People mutht be amuthed, Thquire, thomehow,’ … ‘they can’t be alwayth a working, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a learning. ” (Dickens66) The philosophy the circus people believe in is one of freedom; freedom of thought, passion, emotion, imagination, and even the physical freedom to roam as they please. The ideas of not being able to leave Coketown as well as spending all of ones time learning facts are viewed as preposterous by Sleary’s people. However, life in the circus is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The people in the circus tend to have ailments directly related to all their fun and games. We see a consequence in the life of the circus people when Sissy’s father abandons her out of his shame for his being “goosed”, a term used by those in Sleary’s Circus, meaning being unable to perform in the circus. Sissy’s father became to old and his aches and pains were preventing him from being able to execute his acts in shows, or make enough money. (Dickens51-53) Indeed, Dickens makes sure to demonstrate to the reader that Senor Jupe, Sissy’s father, did not leave out of lack responsibility or care for his daughter. Jupe sent his daughter out on an errand not an hour ago, and then was seen to slip out himself, with his hat over his eyes, and a bundle tied up in a handkerchief under his arm. She will never believe it of him, but he has cut away and left her. ”(Dickens54) “Pray, … ‘why will she never believe it of him? ”(Dickens55) “Because those two were one. Because they were never asunder. Because, up to this time, he seemed dote upon her…”(Dickens55) Using a conversation, between Mr. Childers and Mr. Gradgrind, Dickens answers a question specifically showing that it was not at all that Senor Jupe was a bad father.
Later, the description of Sissy upon realizing her father was gone, proved heartache unfair for a child to be familiar with. (Dickens59-60) We have further evidence that negatives are apparent in Sleary’s Circus when Mr. Childers’ and Master Kidderminster’s legs were described as “wider apart of the general run of men”. (Dickens55) The men had observably painful stiffed knees, and as a direct result from being on a horse so often, for the circus. As well, emphasizing the lack of education at the circus, Mr. Sleary is painfully difficult to communicate with.
In fact, Senor Jupe’s dream of his daughter being “taught the deuce-and-all of education”, is regarded as something of an idealistic dream. (Dickens55) Dickens gives evidence of the effects of Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy through Gradgrind’s oldest children, Tom and Louisa. Though they are both unquestionably smart individuals, they lack the life experience to be able to survive in daily life. Tom becomes sick of his fathers stringent nature and rebels by going to work for Mr. Bounderby, a wealthy bank and factory owner who holds beliefs similar to that of Mr.
Gradgrind. However the pressures of life prove to be too much for Tom to manage, and he turns towards alcohol and gambling as a result. This only creates more trouble for him, as he goes into debt and finds his solution in robbing Mr. Bounderby’s bank, and immorally allowing the blame to be placed on Stephen Blackpool. Essentially, Dickens depicts a downward spiral that may have been avoided with out such a narrow-minded upbringing as Tom’s. In spite of the same sort of upbringing, Louisa has a much more amicable relationship with her father. She agrees to marry Mr.
Bounderby out of the will to please him, but such eagerness to please is precisely what leads to her heartache. Although Louisa was able to stay in her marriage based on rationality for some time, once she allowed herself to feel something, she fell in love with James Harthouse, a man much younger and handsomer than her husband, and she is unable to resolve her feelings. She becomes aware that her lack of knowledge on such complications in life stems from the way her father raised her, and when meeting him at his home she reveals to him her qualms with her childhood. How could you give me life, and take form me all the inappreciable things that raise it form the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here! ” (Dickens 313) Here, what Louisa is saying is that her father robbed her of the deeper meanings that she should have found in life. She didn’t know what it was to love, and now as a result does not know how to handle such emotions.
One might even venture to say that the “garden” she speaks of is symbolic to Louisa herself. By depriving his children of thinking for themselves, he has stunted them, and not given them the opportunity to “bloom” into their own beings. Through these two Gradgrind children Dickens has displayed the potential devastation that an education and upbringing based on nothing but rationality and facts can cause. Neither of Mr. Gradgrind’s oldest children had the abilities to face their situations and sort out what they should do.
Their problems were not black and white, and could not be solved by black and white facts such as their father had always taught them. Seeming to suggest a combination of the two philosophies, Dickens allows Sissy and Sleary’s circus to be the solution to both Louisa and Tom’s problems. After the night of Louisa’s break down, Sissy goes to see her. The two being from very different places, Sissy is able to show compassion, and grasp the severity of Louisa’s pain. When Louisa cries out of feeling devoid of peace, contentment, and honor, Sissy pledges that she will care for Louisa. Dickens 327) Sissy’s good nature is enough to teach Louisa how to find the good and fun in life. As well, Dickens shows the crumbling of Gradgrind’s philosophy by showing the first example of Gradgrind questioning his ways. Although factually Louisa is Mr. Bounderby’s wife, Gradgrind puts his daughter’s emotions first when he assures Bounderby that she will not be returning to him until she is well, despite his threats of divorcing her. The anger from Bounderby results in his redirecting his attention to who robbed his bank, and placed blame on Stephen Blackpool.
However when Stephen dies, Tom goes missing and Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa realize it was he who robbed the bank. Tom was able to take refuge with Sleary’s Circus, and they protected him as one of their own. Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa go to Liverpool to find Tom, and to say goodbye to him as he plans to escape persecution on a boat out of England with the circus. Yet just before he boards a student from Gradgrind’s school, Bitzer, finds Tom and has plans to take him back to the authorities. Mr.
Gradgrind tries to plead with Bitzer, and finds his own theory has backfired on him, and when asking Bitzer if he has a heart accessible to compassionate influence, Bitzer responds only with, “It is accessible to reason, sir. And to nothing else. ” (Dickens 413) Dickens here has made it obvious that the strategies Mr. Gradgrind has implemented in his school for educating children has not made them well rounded people. Further, where Mr. Gradgrind failed to persuade Bitzer, Sleary is able to trick him. The use of barking dogs and dancing horses allows Sleary to distract Bitzer, and gives Tom the opportunity to escape onto the boat.
The success of Sleary and the failure of Mr. Gradgrind promotes that Dickens was partial to the free way of thinking and living that Sleary’s Circus allowed. Still, Dickens hints that it is not only fun and freedom that a child needs, and shows so through the youngest of the Gradgrind children. Jane, still young enough to be influenced, grows up with the strictness of her father in addition to the spontaneity of Sissy. We see the greater success of the combination of the two methods of learning and thinking through Louisa’s notice of Jane when visiting her mother. Louisa had relinquished the hand: had thought that her sister’s was a better and brighter face than hers had ever been: had seen in it, not without a rising feeling of resentment, even in that place and at that time, something of the gentleness of the other face [Sissy] in the room”. (Dickens 290) The reader is easily made aware of the general happiness of Louisa’s younger sister, and it is apparent that she never felt such joy. However Jane was also not brought up in Sleary’s Circus, where Mr. Sleary’s daughter made a will for herself at twelve years old.
Jane, with the influence of both philosophies simultaneously combined, is the happiest of all the children in the novel. She has knowledge to be able to communicate and reason, while still understanding the intangible concepts of human relations and sympathy. Life is not simple, and there is no way to simply have everything figured out. No one method, and no one policy will ever be all that a person needs. Dickens showed the harsh nature of the Gradgrind School ultimately being a failure. He works backwards by showing us the obviously flawed system that was employed, and emphasizes the character flaws on the people in charge of it.
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Still, when representing Sleary’s circus, he emphasizes their flaws as well. Sleary is nearly incomprehensible when he speaks, and although he is not without wit, he is shown to be obviously under educated. By showing that neither end of the spectrum is the correct way to raise and teach a child, Dickens gives evidence that a combination of the two is the best option. Furthermore, we can see the combination of both in Sissy, and we can see how out of anyone in Hard Times she is the only one who is fully well rounded. Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. 4th. 1997. eBook.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Education in Hard Times by Charles Dickens
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Hard Times - The Theme of Education Essay
2699 Words11 Pages
Hard Times - The Theme of Education
In this piece I intend to explain how Dickens is trying to represent education in the Victorian era and how he feels about the style of teaching that is widely used during his times. I also intend to make references to how the representation of Victorian schools by Dickens compares, historically to the actual conditions in a school from the
As soon as the book begins we are introduced to a style of teaching that is dependent only on facts. One of the main characters of the novel is Thomas Gradgrind and he is the enforcer of this utilitarian style of education and is described as a man who is very strict.
Dickens introduces us to this character with a description of his…show more content…
The way he describes the personality and appearance of Gradgrind suggests traits and looks that most people would find undesirable.
In Dickens’s caricature of Gradgrind he is representing a society in which emotions and personal feelings don’t matter and all that matters is work and production rate. Gradgrind champions this utilitarian style system, he seems to represent all that Dickens felt was evil because he thought that Gradgrind was a man who as long as he got what he wanted, it didn’t matter how he got it and also that society should strive for the greater good for the greater number.
Thomas Gradgrind seems to represent the rigor of "hard facts" and statistics and also what his style of teaching does to a person and how they will be as an adult after being subjected to the education style which Gradgrind uses.
“With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature.” This extract shows what kind of an adult Gradgrind has turned out to be. He seems to be devoid of any needless emotions and is sCeptical of anything he is not sure about and is ready to deduce what it is using scientific reasoning and logic.
The teaching style promoted by Gradgrind seems only to involve