‘Look carefully at the opening chapters of Hard Times and explore Dickens’ attitude towards education and how this refers his concern for society. ‘ Charles Dickens ‘Hard Times’ was written in 1842. He was born Feb 7, 1812 in the Victorian times, at the time of a massive educational debate. Dickens, even as a young child was a romantic, he had strong views against Victorian education and the way children were taught, he felt it reflected the way society was developing. He thought everyone should have equal chances in life and believed education was the foundation of life and it determined the outcome of a person’s life.
In Hard Times, Dickens relates to things much more than this, he gets his point across about his views on romanticism and rationalism. Romanticism emphasises the importance of emotion, imagination, freedom and beauty and rationalism is quite the opposite, looking at everything in a logical and scientific eye. This assignment will explore Dickens attitudes and beliefs towards education and how it reflects his concern for society. From chapter 1, ‘The One Thing Needed’ Dickens opens the novel with Gradgrind’s own words, from the start he is already beginning to establish the type of man Gradgrind is.
He opens with, “Now, what I want is, Facts. ” Surprisingly, Dickens gives the word ‘Facts’ a capital letter, he is making it a proper noun from a common noun, which suggests how important facts are to Gradgrind which relates to his rationalist nature. Also, the use of commas after ‘Now’ and ‘is’ is clever, as Gradgrind has to pause in his opening sentence, it catches attention and creates a sense of control, which also indicates facts are powerful. Dickens has defined Gradgrind as a rationalist.
By saying, “Nothing but Facts”, he emphasises the point that facts are the only important thing to Gradgrind, and ‘Nothing but’ tells us that facts is all he intends to know and teach. Dickens repeats the word ‘Facts’ throughout the opening paragraph. He has done this to get the idea across to the Victorian reader. The idea that facts are all that is needed, and all Gradgrind is dependent on. This relates to Rationalism and how Dickens presents it to the reader in a sceptical way. He is putting the point across that children were taught this way in the Victorian period, proving his concern on how education was developing.
Continuing in chapter 1, Dickens describes the classroom as “plain, bare, monotonous vault”. This implies the classroom is colour-less, empty and lacks characteristics. It is a dull environment and therefore has nothing to stimulate the pupils. The word ‘monotonous’ means all the same; nothing changes and is boring. Dickens uses that word to describe the classroom, in which to describe Gradgrind’s rationalist environment. The quote describes a room where things are locked away, as he uses the word ‘vault’ which indicates no way of escape and therefore the pupils are trapped in Gradgrind’s dingy, joyless, rationalist room.
Dickens is implying that there is something lacking in rationalism, something missing, and puts this point across throughout his novel. He does this because he wants the audience to know how he feels about how the way children were taught in the Victorian Period. He wants the reader to know how strongly he feels about rationalist and romantic behaviour, and by using the words I have quoted on, proves Dickens is trying to do just that. Dickens uses the words, “His eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves” to describe Gradgrind’s eyes.
This makes Gradgrind seem dark and cold as he has used words such as ‘cellarage’ and ‘caves’. Dickens has described his eyes as ‘commodious cellarage’, this gives the impression Gradgrind’s eyes are deep set and spacious, as if he has something to hide behind them. As commodious means spacious, it implies Gradgrind can hide his personality and emotions behind his eyes as it emphasises ‘space’. ‘Cellarage’ could also be known as ‘dark and underground’, eyes are a window to personality, but Dickens has made Gradgrind seem that his eyes are dark and therefore hard to look through, and to see any emotions or feelings going on at all.
He does this because he is trying to define Gradgrind as a rationalist, and not even Gradgrind’s own emotions can change this. Dickens is describing rationalism is such a negative way; he is doing this as he wants the reader to completely disapprove of rationalism. Dickens also uses the words “Mouth… wide, thin, and hard set. ” Wisely, Dickens uses these words which implies that Gradgrind doesn’t smile, which tells us he is cold-hearted and has no feelings behind him. He uses the word ‘thin’ which gives off an impression that his mouth is closed off, as his lips are thin and can be unnoticeable.
Dickens describes him this way as rationalists have no imaginable feelings and therefore no reason to smile. He also states his mouth is ‘hard set’, by saying this Dickens implies that Gradgrind’s mouth is inflexible, set like concrete and all that comes out of it is bitter and objective sentences full of facts. It gives the impression he is a stern man; controllable and bossy, which is the point Dickens is trying to get across. Gradgrind wants to drum facts into the pupil’s minds; he is in control over what they learn and therefore this reflects on his rationalism.