Chapter 1 ‘One thing needful’ starts the book off by introducing Mr Gradgrind’s character. The Chapter is set in the local school of Coketown; a small mining town. Set in the 1800’s this book was first published in 1854. Some say this book reflected dickens own childhood more than fiction, much like ‘David Copperfield’. Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and was the second of 8 children. He led an unprivileged childhood as his father was sent to jail for debt, this meant that Dickens briefly had to work at a blacking warehouse at the age of only twelve because of this.
Dickens opens the chapter with speech; however he does not tell the reader who says this, thus creating suspense. In his first paragraph he includes the word ‘facts’ five times. Dickens uses this device, repetition, to emphasize a specific point. The speaker says; ‘Facts alone are wanted in life’. This implies his opinions and views are very fixed and he is not open minded. This also connotes he is not open to new concepts and change. He highlights this point by saying; ‘Stick to facts, sir’. He says this to the schoolmaster, advising him and almost to instruct him to do as he says.
Dickens describes the school room as; ‘plain’, ‘bare’ and ‘monotonous’. This gives the connotations of boredom and a stereotypical lecture theatre in a school. The word ‘monotonous’ would imply the room having little decoration, being unelaborated. The school room is illustrated as a; ‘vault’ this would suggest that the school had certain similarities to a prison or a cell. After this he uses a metaphor device to describe the school room; ‘monotonous vault of a school room’. He uses this device to make the description seem more real and to make it more engaging to read. He describes the speaker’s forefinger as ‘square’, this connotes strictness and rigorousness.
Another device Dickens uses regularly is the simile; he uses this to describe certain aspects of characters. In this instance he is describing Mr Gradgrind’s bald head. ‘Covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie’ Dickens draws the comparison of Mr Gradgrinds head to a plum pie to give a more vivid description. He uses a plum pie because many people can relate to plum pies and have experienced them. Similarly Dickens uses metaphors in description; ‘a plantation of firs’. This metaphor is used to describe his straw like hair. His neck is expressed, using a simile, ‘like a stubborn fact’. This incorporates Mr Gradgrind’s views and characteristics into the description of his appearance.
Dickens uses repetition again, this time as a device to describe the speaker and show how his dominant features underline what he does. ‘The emphasis’ is written four times in this paragraph, compelling you to read more. Dickens describes the speaker as having a; ‘square wall of a forehead’ this connotes power and authority. This figure, ‘The speaker’ is a person of dominance, stressing his control over the listeners.
This would entail him to be high on the socio economic scale; he would be an important figure in the town. The speaker would possibly own an estate in the town or such that made him important enough to lecture in the school. Dickens description leads you to believe that the character is male as his mouth is described as ‘wide, thin and hard set’. From Dickens description you can almost determine what features and personalities a character has for the remainder of the book. Mr Gradgrind described in the first chapter as having an ‘obstinate carriage’ gives the impression he has a cold and bitter personality.
Mr Gradgrind’s voice is described as being; ‘dry’, ‘inflexible’ and ‘dictatorial’. This would imply he is a confident speaker and the word ‘dictatorial’ also anchors the connotations of him being single minded and that he cannot accept change. This also connotes that he does not have a sense of humour or have much of a personality. This gives a sense of control and structure I n the school room. When Dickens portrays Mr Gradgrind as having ‘square shoulders’ this would entail he has a broad build and has very distinctive features.
Dickens mentions his own children in the chapter; he says that his children are models of fact and that all the other children should be brought up by fact. This is anchored by Mr Gradgrind saying; ‘Stick to facts’. This suggests he is stuck in his ways about ‘facts’. The way Dickens represents Mr Gradgrind as having an ‘unaccommodating grasp’ would represent that he is either a boring speaker or his audience doesn’t understand him. This would also suggest that he is uncharacteristic and not outgoing.