Mr. Sugden is a physical education teacher at the secondary modern school. Sugden is a bully and again Barry Hines has highlighted the teacher’s personality with his name, this time employing rhyme as his assistant, as Sugden is a thug. Billy dislikes physical education and does not have the proper kit, since his mother either doesn’t want to buy him one or cannot buy him one (the latter seems more believable as Mrs. Casper squanders most of her money on luxuries for herself such as cigarettes and alcohol). Instead of discreetly giving Billy a kit to wear, Sugden chooses to mock him in front of his classmates.
Sugden’s verbal bullying brings out the negative aspects of Billy’s personality as the way in which Billy is treated provokes him to answer back and be cheeky. Not only does Sugden have an inferior attitude towards his pupils as well as verbally bullying his pupils but as a big man he does not hesitate to physically abuse them too. “He hit Billy twice with the ball, holding it between both hands as though he was murdering him with a boulder.” “Mr. Sugden bounced the ball on Billy’s head compressing his neck into his shoulders”. His attitude is immature and shows no sportsmanship or fairness, two lessons which should always be reinforced in physical education lessons. His role as adjudicator is one that he does not deserve as he is too juvenile to cooperate fairly.
Mr. Sugden’s appearance is neat and tidy though; during the football scene Sugden is dressed in a ‘violet tracksuit’. To be able to analyse and understand Sugden, we need to see him at his absolute worst, which the football scene illustrates perfectly. Sugden believes he has authority in the changing rooms and also on the football pitch and therefore is very aggressive throughout the football scene “Slack work lad, slack work.” Sugden’s frustration is pushed to the limit when a dog appears on the pitch. “If Mr. Sugden had a gun, Mr. Wolf would have been dead in no time.” At this time, Billy once again proves that his connections to animals and nature in general are very strong.
The teacher thinks he is the only important person in the lesson and Hines has successfully created this image by using the ‘bracket technique’; Hines incorporates brackets to the different roles Sugden plays to inform the reader what part he is playing at a particular moment in the match ‘Sugden (commentator)’ and also to demonstrate the importance and amount of control Sugden has on the game. His negative attitude has a clear affect on the boys, who leave the lesson cold and uninspired. Mr. Sugden uses formal English although occasionally he may slip up and use local dialect. Barry Hines uses Standard and Non-Standard English in his novel.
A Kestrel For A Knave’s main characters are from Yorkshire and have very recognisable accents. If Hines were to use Standard English throughout the book, we would not see a complete picture of the characters. Billy uses his local dialect all the time as he simply has not been taught Standard English since everyone around Billy, his friends, family and neighbours use the local dialect so Billy has never experienced Standard English enough to pick it up.
The title ‘Hard Times’ makes it seem believable that Dickens is writing honestly about a time that has harsh methods of education. Charles Dickens possibly attended a school like the one in Hard Times so he may aim to make the problems obvious to people who otherwise could fail to notice society’s difficulties. Barry Hines also writes truthfully regarding the education system in his era and I think he also aims to highlight the errors of the organization that controls what schools teach their pupils.
However Barry Hines writes more realistically as the book is more recent and therefore easier to relate to. Both authors’ present systems, which now seem very wrong but at the time they were thought of as acceptable. Both books probably contain memories of the authors’ school days and particularly in A Kestrel for a Knave the scenes seem very believable. Neither system would be justifiable now but in their time the schools’ teaching methods seemed fair and acceptable to those involved.
Working down the mines was the most common form of employment at the time of Billy’s childhood. This seemed to be the thing that Billy feared most – ending up working down “t’pit”. The fact that the school offered almost no profession alternatives must have affected Billy’s view on his education’s value. For example, when Billy is interviewed for career choices, he shows no interest or compassion. One-word answers to all the questions asked show that Billy is unenthusiastic, impatient to leave the meeting to check on his hawk.
The environment in which the people of the Hard Times era grew up was a very harsh, unfeeling and cold one. This was also true for Billy in Kes; his environment was similar to that of the Gradgrind children. They are stifled in their surroundings, prisoners of a world of utilitarianism. Gradgrind’s school is very plain and bare, Dickens describing it as a “monotonous vault”, and “intensely whitewashed”. Pupils learning in this environment would find it extremely boring. No encouragement is given to exercise imagination. Billy Casper’s school is similar to Hard Times’ equivalent. Each is too plain, dull and lifeless.
Dickens names his fictional area ‘Coketown’, which says a lot about the image he is trying to portray. ‘Coke’ makes the reader think that it is a very typical industrial town, and the fact that the product they export is in incorporated in the city’s name symbolises that it revolves around work, and making money, therefore having many self-seeking and money-hungry inhabitants. Coke is black, messy and generally an unfavourable substance. The fact that coke is incorporated into the name of the town represents what the town is like – dark and dirty. Dickens has again used the naming-technique but this time for a place, not a person. Dickens sees this place as oppressive and destructive; it is a prison from which few escape
“Nature was as strongly bricked out as the killing airs and gasses were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets… and the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death.” Billy’s behaviour seems to have been affected by his bleak home and school and home environment. An example of this is when he swears at his mother and runs off. He can be forgiven for this as his mother and brother are very unreasonable people; products of utilitarianism. They show little if any love or compassion towards Billy, and use him only to benefit themselves.
An example of this behaviour is when Mrs. Casper tries to force Billy to buy her some cigarettes. Billy is protesting (truthfully) that he will be late for school, but his mother does not care. Although he despises school, he has summoned the effort to get himself there, and his mother (whether intentionally or otherwise) has severely discouraged him. With such disregard about his education from his mother, it will affect his views. However, in the natural environment Billy’s behaviour is completely different. Qualities not apparent in the urban environment shine in the natural one as he is patient, hardworking, athletically gifted, a good trainer, quick to learn. All these attributes are reflected in the kestrel that he successfully and independently trains.
One final point I feel I should make is that Billy and Sissy were both abandoned by their fathers. This, in addition to the education system, could have had a detrimental effect on their lives. Both authors use the ending to put across a final epitaph, both being quite different. In Hard Times, everything culminates when Tom Gradgrind, Gradgrind’s wayward son is caught robbing a bank by Bitzer. Gradgrind tries to persuade his former pupil and work associate to show some compassion for him and his family, and let Tom be. In talking about himself: “And crushing his miserable father?” “Pity us!” This shows that he is going against the concept of what he has taught and believed in for many years, as he knows that Bitzer turning his son in would be far more beneficial to him than him not. Bizter says:
“…but I am sure that you know that the whole social system is a question of self interest…I was brought up in that catechism when I was very young, Sir, as you are aware.” This proves that he is completely self-concerned, and all sign of feeling and compassion has ebbed due to the Gradgrind’s education system which does have an element of irony in it as it is Gradgrind who is begging him to break his own rules. Mr. Gradgrind then offers him a princely sum to try and make him change his mind, and Bitzer even goes as far as to make complicated calculations to see which will make him the most money in the end, – therefore declining Gradgrind’s offer. He declares that “I was made in the cheapest market, and have to dispose of myself of in the dearest.”
The fact that Bitzer does not have any grasp of loyalty, compassion, pity, or charity means that Tom is condemned. The ending of Kes seems slightly abrupt, considering that most mention of Billy with Kes in the book was drawn out with extended language. This is probably to show how Kes has been ripped from Billy’s life so cruelly, which is reflected in the short, emotionless language used to describe the burial. The ending is left rather ambiguously; we are not sure what path Billy’s life will take. But by this Hines may have been implying that due to Kes, there is a different path he can take now, Billy has the choice to make something of his life. The children’s lives are followed in the two books, and are portrayed as victims of their individual systems.
The consequences of this are shown both to be negative; in A Kestrel for a Knave young Billy Casper’s life is an awful one, and in Hard Times when they reach adulthood they are unable to function properly as adults. Therefore, both systems can be seen as failures. Gradgrind’s system appears to dehumanise the pupils and individualism is not encouraged. A pupil who is seen to be a success of Gradgrind’s school would have been brainwashed, completely empty of personality but full of information in the form of facts that do not properly prepare the children for the life that they are to lead. I believe that Mr. Gryce’s method is the system that has prepared the children best for the life they are to lead, as they are more able to cope with the problems that they will encounter. As seen in Hard Times, Gradgrind’s class simply can’t cope with emotional pressures and so collapse under the strain as Tom did when he chose to steal from his father.
Billy, Sissy and most children from his background began life through no fault of their own with a huge handicap. The children have little chance of improving their situation and are therefore all destined to lead relatively uncomfortable lives. Barry Hines and Charles Dickens attempt to expose this social deprivation at many stages in their books. From this we learn that Hines and Dickens have a strong bias towards Billy, Sissy and all similar children in general. Perhaps each author wishes to blame the children’s futile existence on the wealthier citizens – the Upper Class. Whether or not the authors intended to, both Hard Times and A Kestrel For A Knave gave credence to what the adolescence of England was being taught at that time.