Two chapters of Hard Times Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:39:42
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Category: Literature

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Explore how Dickens presents the theme of education in the first two chapters of Hard Times. What point might he be making about the educational system of his day? Dickens felt and believed that the educational system of his day was too utilitarian, that it was based too much on fact and reason. Also, he considered it to not be aesthetic enough, and not comprehensive enough. Dickens used caricature to exaggerate Gradgrind, the third gentleman, M’Choakumchild, Sissy and Bitzer. Gradgrind is obviously caricatured. His name can be broken down into two parts: “Grad-” and “-grind”. “Grad-” being short for “gradual”/”gradually”, and “-grind” being “crush”, “break” or “wear away”.
This embellishes his personal beliefs on teaching as hammering away at the children, or “pitchers”, to get them to know Facts. The capitalisation of “Facts” by Dickens shows us that they are revered by Gradgrind at an almost godly level. His figure is mocked: “the speaker’s square wall of a forehead” showing his forehead as a block, flat and plain; and “commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall” suggests that his eyes are set back and are obscured by his brow.
Dickens uses tricolons to further exaggerate his tone and appearance; “the speaker’s mouth was wide, thin, and hard set”, “the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial”. This creates the impression that Gradgrind’s character is drab and dreary, and thus his company will be tedious and monotonous too. This exaggeration is aided by the repetition of “The emphasis was helped by…” Overall, Gradgrind is expressed by Dickens as being plain, boring, and a perfect stereotype of Utilitarianism, in that he is very factual, and, whilst he would have an interesting facial structure, his features are very boring.
A contrast between Sissy and Bitzer is made through caricature. Sissy is described as “so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun”. One word appears to express what Dickens’ message is would be “deeper”. A deeper colouring from the sun can be likened to her deeper knowledge of horses revealed by ‘the light of truth’. However, Bitzer is depicted as “so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed.” In this quote, the most important words emerge as “draw out of him”.
As with Sissy, these can be likened to the factual knowledge being drawn out by ‘the light of truth’. The contrast between the two seems to be used to show the contrast between someone who truly has knowledge , versus someone who is meant to have knowledge, but doesn’t really . The difference between them is what Dickens is trying to show us, the readers. He’s saying that just being able to recite facts about something isn’t as good as having instinctive knowledge about that object.
The third gentleman is described as being “a professed pugilist”, meaning he is an aggressive fighter. One assumes that this is metaphorical, rather than literal, and can be taken to be describing his professional methods of power as Commissioner rather than actual job. This would convey that his means of power as bullying teachers and headmasters into creating a school that fits the Utilitarian ideas of education.
M’Choakumchild is illustrated as being “turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs.” This illustrates him as being the same as so many other school masters at the time, and the word “factory” is used to convey the concept of the Industrial Revolution, and the dreariness and repetitiveness of the production lines. This is brought out in the fact that the third gentleman seems to be based on Henry Cole, who believed that consumer goods should be designed to represent industrial items.
This idea of being the same as so many other people, suggests that they all “know” the same facts, but, coupled with the narrator’s interjection “If only he had learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!”, shows that Dickens believed that knowing too much, and not having practical knowledge of the facts, or an imagination – as he discards fancy as useless, means that their education isn’t comprehensive, and is a disadvantage.
Coupled with Dickens’ background, including his speech on “the one thing needful” being “comprehensive liberal education”, one can assume that he believed in children being taught a broad range of subjects, in an open minded fashion. Normally, contrast would be used in greater amounts to express this huge difference between the stereotyped reality, and the desired reality, but Dickens used adjectives with seemingly double meanings, repetition, and tricolons.

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