Review of Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Hard times is a book published by Charles Dickens in 1854, the first couple chapters of the book take place in a classroom of a school in Coketown, England where the superintendent, a teacher, and a government officer all stand in front of a classroom and strongly express the need for a ‘facts only’ school system. Dickens does a great jobs illustrating the three men trying to impose a rigid new system of education by denigrating the idea of fancy and to only worry about facts, displaying a clear level of authority amongst the three educators which intimidates the students and their will to think outside the world of facts and lastly by depicting the characters as dull and rigid as the facts they mandate.
Dickens begins the novel Hard Times with a very aggressive quote, setting the tone for one of the main themes of the novel “fact over fancy”. The idea of facts is based on rationality while the idea of fancy is founded by imagination. Mr. Gradgrind and his two other colleagues seem to take enormous pride in depicting a school system and a life based only on facts. Believing it is much more practical and efficient, “Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life… this is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children.” Dickens displays the notion of fact to an extreme when Mr. Gradgrind ask Bitzer a young student to give his definition of a horse, Bitzer who’s probably never handled a horse in his life gives a memorized textbook answer, “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive.” No children in this day and age would ever give such answer because we are not implemented with the belief that facts are more practical or useful than fancy. These are two of many ways Dickens is able to portrait the plan of a utilitarian education system.
The novel Hard Times displays a very clear supremacy characteristics with the authority figures. Mr. Gradgrind, Mr. M’Choakumchild and the government officer all exude an aura of power which terrifies the children. Their presence of authority only magnifies their ability to reinforce their beliefs of a facts only school system, their joyless approach and emotionless tones confines the students ability to be original which ultimately destroys a child’s innocence and creativity. Once a child is set to believe facts and rationality is all that matters they will start to lose personality and become easier to control by authority figures like Mr.Gradgrind. Dickens exhibits Mr. Gradgrinds sovereignty when he belittles Sissy Jupe by telling her, her name is to be pronounced as ‘Cecilia’ and not ‘Sissy’ like her father does, “Sissy is not a name, don’t call yourself Sissy”; Mr. Gradgrind is simply reinforcing his credence of facts. Another example of the strong characteristics of power is when the government officer ask the children if they would paper a room with representation of horses, to which the children replies ‘yes’ but by his demeanor and the look of his face was strong enough to make the children change their answers to ‘no’. power is another big theme in Hard Times and an important one when it comes to the implementation of a rigid school system. Lastly Dickens uses a lot of imagery to describe the characters in the novel, those caricatures only personifies the idea of facts and rationality. For Mr.Gradgrind he is described as, “Square wall of a forehead… his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves… Bald head all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie.” The fact that he uses square wall gives Mr. Gradgrind the appearance of someone who not only preaches facts but his body is displaying it, a square also gives a dull and boring ring to someone’s personality. The bald head covered with knobs and cracks gives the impression that he is filled with facts and that his head is about to explode with the overload of precise and accurate concepts. The officer is described as a mighty man at cutting and drying, always in training ready to force down the general throat. By this description the officer seems to portray the persona of a man who is the enforcer of facts, law and anything in between. Dicken furthers his description by stating, “He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense and render that unlucky adversary deaf to the call of time” only adding to his strong appearance. And finally, Mr. M’Choakumchild is a teacher at the school whose name is facetiously used to personify the idea of one who impedes the imagination of children. Mr. M’Choakumchild is a very educated person, with education in, “Orthography, etymology, astronomy, biography, algebra, French, German, Latin, Greek and can name all of the rivers and mountain”. Even though Mr. M’Choakumchild is extremely knowledge it doesn’t make him a good educator. Just a machine who spits out facts in the fertile minds of these children’s.
Thanks to Charles Dickens ability to illustrate the notion of fact over fancy, depict strong characteristics for the main characters and ability to display their power as authority figures, he makes it clear that the three men are trying to impose a rigid new system of education.
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