Throughout the opening chapters of Hard Times Dickens clearly expresses his concerns for the education system at the time. Set in the 1850’s – the middle of the Industrial Revolution – Hard Times describes the school as a rationalist place were the schoolroom is a ‘ monotonous vault’ were children are taught only ‘facts” The way that Dickens describes the education clearly shows he is against it and that a romanticist education is better. The reader is forced to agree with him.
The first paragraph of Hard Times uses the repetition of the ‘Facts’. Dickens dislike for the rationalist education is shown in the first sentence, where he uses a large capital letter in the phrase ‘Now what I want is facts’. The word now is an imperative, which shows that Gradgrind is very controlling. By using the phrase the reader is almost immediately aware of Gradgrind’s fascination with ‘Facts’ and that he has no reasoning and us always right, even when he is wrong.Order now
Dickens continues to show his anxiety for the education system by using the phrase ‘plant nothing else and root of everything else’. This informs the reader that Gradgrind sees the children as flowerbeds full of weeds and ones that need ‘Facts’ and a rationalist education to become something in life. He also believes that without ‘Facts’ the children will just remain young and hopeless for the rest of their lives.
At the start of the second paragraph Dickens turns his description to the actual room in which the children are taught. He describes it with a metaphor, calling it a ‘plain, bare, monotonous vault’. This gives the image of a large room in which the children are locked up. It is described as a ‘vault’ because Gradgrind considers the children valuable to the future of the country and he doesn’t want them to get any romanticist ideas from the outside world. The words ‘plain, bare and monotonous’ make the school seem very boring and emphasises at how factual Gradgrind and the education is. The schoolroom described in the novel contrasts with classrooms nowadays. In the book is a dull place now classrooms are bright and full of colour.
Dickens then turns his description to Gradgrind, although he doesn’t mention Gradgrind’s name in chapter 1 as soon as you see the name in chapter 2 you can tell instantaneously tell that the speaker is Gradgrind. By repeating the word ‘square’ in his description of Gradgrind, Dickens gives us the impression that Gradgrind is very factual as squares are considered quite factual shapes. When Dickens uses the metaphor ‘two darks caves’ to describe Gradgrind’s eye the reader gets the idea that Gradgrind is exceptionally sinister and that his rationalist view on life has caused him to lose all emotion and life.
Dickens re-enforces everything he has said about the school and Gradgrind in chapter one by describing Gradgrind’s clothes. ‘Square coat, square legs, square shoulders – nay his very neckcloth’. Dickens is very clever in this phrase as he uses Satire to make us laugh at Gradgrind. By describing him as ‘square’ shows that Gradgrind is very factual and re-enforces that he has a rationalist view on education.
Dickens finishes chapter one by describing the children. He describes them as ‘little vessels’ that are ‘ready to have imperial gallons of full of facts poured in them’. By using the metaphor ‘little vessels” Dickens give the impression that there are a lot of children in a small space sitting in silence. By exercising the word ‘imperial’ before gallons helps to give of the impression that the school us factual. It shows Gradgrinds obsession with facts, he cannot just have gallons, as that is not factual enough. They have to be ‘metric or imperial’.
The name of chapter two is very important as by calling it ‘murdering the innocents’ Dickens is referring to the biblical story where King Herod ordered all baby boys to be killed for his own gain. This relates to the metaphorical ‘killing’ of the students in the school. At the start of chapter two Gradgrind is described as ‘a man of facts and calculations, this re-enforces the idea that he is very factual. Gradgrind’s name also shows this because by using the word grind, Dickens gives the reader the image of someone grey, dull and very grinding every time they read it.