I am studying the comparisons between Charles Dickens’s Hard Times and Langston Hughes’s Thank You M’am. The first of the comparisons is the setting. Hard Times is set in an English Victorian classroom whereas Thank You M’am is set in modern day Harlem, America. At the start of Hard Times we are placed in a classroom. It is described in ways that are significant. “A plain, bare, monotonous vault of a classroom.” The word ‘vault’ makes me feel that it is a jail, the children are trapped and their imagination is being drained out of them. Then, we meet Mr. Gradgrind. He is overpowering, dominant, demanding and is only interested in facts. “Now what I want is facts. Nothing but facts.” He is quite old and has spots on his bald head. He thinks himself as ruler of everyone, and when Sissy Jupe says her name is Sissy, he says it isn’t a name! “Sissy is not a name,” His name also tells us about himself. Mr Gradgrind gives me the impression that he is “Grinding” the children down until they have no imagination.
There is a new girl in the class. Her name is Sissy Jupe. She is very shy and quiet, and vulnerable. Mr Gradgrind starts by calling her “girl number twenty,” instead of Sissy. W hen she says her dad works in the circus, “the ring” Mr Gradgrind replies “We don’t want to know about that in here.” He is scared that the children might get ideas and an imagination, fun and laughter. I think Dickens wants me to be on Sissy’s side because she is scared and vulnerable to Mr G who is big and demolishing.
We also meet Bitzer. He is very different from Sissy. Bitzer is small, light haired, light eyed and pale faced, as if all the colour and imagination had been squeezed out of him. Whereas sissy was dark haired and dark eyed. “The girl was so dark haired and dark eyed, the boy was so light haired and light eyed. If he were cut, he would bleed white.” Bitzer is quite snobbish and rises to the challenge, giving his answer like a human dictionary. Dickens has deliberately created two totally different children because Sissy is new, but soon she may be drained of her colour and be like Bitzer, but we don’t want this to happen, making us take sides and hate Mr Gradgrind.
Here is what happens in “Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes. The story starts at night. We meet a boy called Roger and a woman called Mrs Jones. This is what Mrs Jones is like. She is a large built black woman, she is confident because she is walking on her own late at night. She is also very religious because when it says she carried everything in her handbag “except a hammer and nails”. This perhaps relates to Jesus being crucified by being nailed to a cross. She thinks its wrong to carry them.
This is what Roger is like. He is the total opposite to Mrs J. He is weak because he falls over by the weight of Mrs J’s handbag; he is frail and small, quite sneaky and dirty. What happens in the story is that Mrs Jones is walking home one night when a boy snatches her bag, but he falls over, then Mrs J walks over to him and picks him up by the scruff of his neck. She asks him why he did it but he says he didn’t mean to. Mrs J takes the boy, Roger, into her flat and gets him fed and cleaned up. While her back is turned Roger has a clear site of the open door ahead of him, but he decides to stay.
Mrs J finds out that there is no one at his home, and that Roger tried to steel some money because he wanted some blue suede shoes. She gives him some money and he leaves. Mrs Jones gives Roger a second chance. I think she does this because she is feeling maternal, and maybe she cant have children. At the start of the story I think Roger is a small conniving little weasel. But at the end I think he is quite trustworthy and loyal, because he had the chance to run, but he didn’t. One moment when Roger seemed to change was when Mrs J told him to pick up her pocketbook. Roger could have run away, but he didn’t. Mrs J put her trust in him.
These two pieces of writing have things in common. The first thing is that they both show adults dealing with children. An example is that Mr Gradgrind tells Sissy that her name isn’t a real name. He is a very dominant figure. Mrs Jones tells Roger to do something, and he does it. They both respect the adult’s authority. Both children, Sissy and Roger, are weak and shy, and a bit scared. They are both quiet. These two stories are also similar because they are both about adults teaching children what’s right and what’s wrong. Mrs J tells Roger its wrong to steal from somebody. Mr Gradgrind tells Sissy her dad shouldn’t work at the circus. I react differently to each of these teaching because Mrs J’s teaching is morally correct, but Mr G is just viewing his own personal ideas.
Mrs Jones and Mr Gradgrind are very different. Here are some ways in which they are different. Mr Gradgrind has children of his own, whereas Mrs Jones doesn’t, as far as we know. Mr Gradgrind is forcing the children to do things and influencing them, whereas Mrs J is encouraging Roger, placing her trust in him. In a way, adults are a kind of role model, because the children are obeying them. They don’t answer back and they do everything they say, like when Roger was told to get Mrs J’s pocketbook, and he did so without any questions.
Both stories have something to do with parenting too. Mr Gradgrind says that he brings his children up on “nothing but facts”. I think as a parent he is too demanding. He wants his children to be like him, and the world is a better place without imagination. Mrs Jones is different. She is rough and tough with Roger at the start because she gets him in a headlock, but then she softens up and is caring towards Roger. I think she can’t have children because of some medical reason. I say this because when Roger turns round at the end towards Mrs J, it says that she is standing on a barren stoop. Langston Hughes could have used any word but he chose this word. Barren means empty, and a long time ago it meant infertile. She also says, “I was young once and I wanted things I could not have.” Maybe she can’t have children.
I think Langston Hughes likes and respects Mrs J. I think this because she first takes Roger inside and then cooks him some food and cleans him up, a bit like a Good Samaritan. I think Hughes is talking to his black audience in this story because he is trying to say that black people don’t have to be afraid of anything, and that we should all work together as a community. Mrs Jones and Roger both use black American dialect. I can tell because they use words and phrases like “Ain’t you got nobody at home” and “You gonna take me to jail”.
Charles Dickens’s audience was very different. In Victorian times, there was a big gap between the upper class and the working class, for example, there used to be huge games of football played in the streets, but the posh arrogant people wouldn’t play. Also, teachers were like machines and pupils were cups, ready to be filled up with facts. But I don’t think Dickens wanted us to like Mr G because he was picking on a little innocent girl, and we automatically feel sorry for her.