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    Significance in the novel Essay

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    “Hard Times” is a book written by Charles Dickens and is set in the fictional city of Coketown. In the book Dickens puts across his views about Victorian society through his characterisation of the individuals in the story. The two episodes I will discuss in this essay are, chapter one and chapter six when Gradgrind informs Louisa of a marriage proposal from Bounderby. I have chosen these two episodes to draw from when discussing Gradgind’s nature and his portrayal in the novel as they show a progression in his character. In chapter one, Gradgrind, who is not yet named, is shown as a harsh, unattractive figure with a, “square forehead”.

    His angular face with its’, “cave” shaped eyes, square, “wall” of a forehead and, “a plantation of firs” for hair reflects the, “plain, bare, monotonous schoolroom” which stands before him. This shows him to be full of facts just as the schoolroom is. The emphasis of the contrast between fact and imagination is portrayed in this chapter through the speaker, Gradgrind, and the narrator. The narrator’s speech is full of imaginative language and uses plenty of metaphors and similes, for example, “while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves”. This strongly contrasts with the speaker’s matter-of-fact language, “Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are what are wanted from life”.

    The word, “Fact” is emphasized by its capital letter, this bursts out at the reader, making this their lasting impression of Gradgrind. It is clear that in this episode Dickens, through the characterisation of Gradgrind, is reflecting his views on the education system. He uses Gradgrind, portraying him as a harsh, unattractive, threatening man, to reflect the education system in the Victorian period.

    He emphasizes the learning of facts and the lack of any imagination through phrases such as, “The speaker, the schoolmaster and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels, then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim”. This phrase tells the reader that they will be so full of facts that they will be devoid of everything else, the word, “vessels” also de-personalises the children emphasizing that they will be like fact filled drones.

    Chapter six shows a dramatic change in the way the reader viewed Gradgrind in chapter one. This chapter is very complicated in the terms of Gradgrind’s characterisation. There are three main contrasts in this chapter, that between Gradgrind and Sleary, that between Bounderby and Sleary and that between Gradgrind and Bounderby. These contrasts are very clever as they show Gradgrind to be kinder than Bounderby, which has not been shown in the past, but also show that Gradgrind is not as kind as Sleary who, incidentally is full of imagination (another contrast with Gradgrind to show that being full of facts is unfavourable).

    The contrast between Gradgrind and Sleary is partially shown through tone of voice. Although husky and drink-sodden, Sleary speaks comprehensibly, far more so that Gradgrind or Bounderby. Sleary’s speech impediment, “thquire”, and circus lingo add charm and softness to his speeches, whereas, Gradgrind’s matter-of-fact speeches, “He is gone away, and there is no present expectation of his return”, present him in a somewhat insensitive light. However, although this disparity depicts Gradgrind as having an unsympathetic nature, his actions and his contrast with Bounderby gives us a more positive view of him. Gradgrind is shown to be different from Bounderby at this point as he wishes to take Sissy in, even though she is not full of facts and could influence his children with stories of her time at the circus, whilst Bounderby says to Gradgrind, “No.

    I say no. I advise you not. I say by no means”. When Gradgrind refuses to listen to his friend and decides to give Sissy a home any way the reader is shocked as just a few chapters previously he thought so much of Bounderby’s opinion that he says this repetitively to Tom and Louisa after he finds them peaking in at the circus, “What would Mr Bounderby say”. We also see another difference between the two friends in the way that they speak to Sissy. Bounderby is so lacking in tact that when he talks to Sissy, “Let the girl understand fact. Let her take it from me, if you like, who have been run away from myself. Here, what’s your name! Your father has absconded – deserted you – and you mustn’t expect to see him again as long as you live”, that Sleary says his employees might, “pith you out o’ winder”!

    Gradgrind speaks in a more caring manor, and he doesn’t call Sissy, “what’s your name”! Gradgrind does still speak in a fact full way but he is much more tactful and considerate than Bounderby, “I, who came here to tell the father of the poor girl, Jupe, that she could not be received at the school any more, in consequence of there being practical objections, into which I need not enter, to the reception there of the children of persons so employed, am prepared in these altered circumstances to make a proposal”. This long sentence also shows that Gradgrind is trying to calm the situation down for Sissy before he makes his, “proposal”, this is also quite thoughtful. Throughout this episode the relationship that Gradgrind has with children has changed. The reader can no longer imagine him as thinking of Sissy as a vessel as in chapter one.

    However, the reader also notices that Gradgrind hasn’t made a total reform, far from it, and that he still believes tenaciously in facts. The two episodes also show a change in the way Gradgrind views his status. In chapter one it would be inconceivable that he would spend any time talking to, lower, circus people, let alone be thing about taking in a lowly circus child! I think that through the differences between Gradgrind’s character in chapter one and in chapter six he is showing that through better communication and understanding the Victorian education system and industry could change for the better.

    In conclusion, I think that Dickens has used the characterisation of Gradgrind very cleverly. Even his name reflects his character. The, “Grad” or grade is because of his determination that his children should concentrate on factual matters alone, they are in danger of never fully developing into “normal” people, and the, “grind” and its concern with the different stages of our lives. His descriptions of Gradgrind all show links with the Victorian industry and education system in this skilful political novel.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Significance in the novel Essay. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from

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