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  • Writer's pictureESSMAT SOPHIE

How Charles Dicken's novel Hard Times deals with the topic of education

Introduction and Discussion:

Hard Times by Charles Dickens, first published in 1854 is a book which portrays and scrutinizes English society and demonstrates the social, economic and educational conditions of the era. Charles Dickens demonstrates the reality of Vicorian England and the reality of London which the historian did not fully represent. The story takes place at a time when England was undergoing dramatic change as a result of the industrial revolution. It is set in the fictitious Victorian industrial coketown where great waving mills obscured the sky a blur of dust and smoke.

In this town in a gloomy house called Stone Lodge, lived a man named Gradgrind. He was a hard headed, stubborn, bald man, with his appearance, face and even forehead square and wide, but he had a thin set mouth. He had grown rich in the hardware business and was a school director of the town. He believed in nothing but "facts" He determined the value of everything in the world with calculating and only to weigh and measure. As Victorian age was full of facts, figures and calculation, he was a product of it. He followed utilitarianism. He used to say to teachers and schoolmasters "teach boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life."

The first few chapters depict a classroom where logic and fact- based learning are prioritized. As a father or school principal he lives his life with this philosophy, runs the school by this theory and most of all he raises his children according to this system. Throughout the course of the story the reader observes the consequences of this philosophy. Imagination had no place in their lives. His children Louisa and Tom hated Coketown, their house and most of all they hated facts. They wished that imagination could resonate in their lives and "could collect all the facts and all the figures in the world, and all the people who found them out, ... and blow them all up together."

There are a lot of messages and themes associated with this novel, but one of the main ones is that of fact versus fantasy and depicting a terrible educational system in which facts are pressed into school children all day, and information memorization is cherished over art, dream, fantasy and imagination.

During this novel, the author refers to the educational method and the philosophy related to it, and in three parts, presents the educational system in a narrative way. Part one is called sowing where we see Gradgrind sowing this philosophy into the lives of his children and school system. The second part is called reaping which shows the fulfillment and reaching of having instilled this philosophy and it shows in detail as they play out in this section. Part three "Garnering" he sees adjusting his philosophy coming to terms with all the consequences and things that have happened.

Dickens portrays the teachers and inspectors of school almost as monsters. The first point he conducts is through describing Mr. Gradgrind's appearance and behavior in the first chapters of the book.

Dickens employs a variety of strategies to convey his views on education to his readers throughout the novel, the first of which is the creation of several characters. Sissy Jupe and Bitzer are two such characters who are totally different in their educational experiences and perspectives on the educational system. Bitzer is a model student of Mr. Gradgrind's education of facts. He later became the gatekeeper of Mr. Bounderby's bank. He is cold-hearted and analytical. But Sissy's character is completely opposite of him.

As a result of this system of education and upbringing, some characters in this novel become very distorted and damaged. Tom and Louisa's lives are turned upside down. Not only their childhood is ruined, but their adulthoods is distorted as well. They have no right to access to their feeling, emotions and following their passion. They were constantly treated as if they had no hearts. They are encouraged to be machine like and conformist being. Tom doesn't understand moral and love. As a result of his improper upbringing based on a utilitarian system of education and upbringing, he has no sense for understanding morals and love. He gets involved in crime and dies in misery, exile, and displacement. Lousia follows her logic rather that her heart. She can't resist her father's request of marry Bounderby. This make her unhappy. As a result of her terrible marriage, louisa is on the verge of ruin. Later she tries to running off with Harthouse who seemed to understand love her. On the other hand she sacrificed her life for her brother who is the only one she loves deeply. In each case she just cannot follow her heart and dreams.

In the end there is only one character who turns out as a happy well- adjusted human being and it is the character from the very beginning of the story who was the student that Gradgrind had to reprimand because she was too much of an advocate of fancy. That is Sissi.

Cecillia or Sissy is a daughter of a man who works in a circus. She was surrounded by imagination and fantasy. The circus is a symbol which is an alternative to facts and rationality. allowed and permitted to dream and have imagination. She follows her heart, emotions and dreams. She possesses empathy and emotional strength which lead her to have moral behavior and she understands love, friendship and helpfulness.

Gradgrind is so devoted to his educational system that he can not see his failure and when things can't work properly, he blames others than his beliefs. In some cases we read that he blames and criticizes Sissi. This appears to be an important evaluation of those who are ideological in some way. He blames Sissi in some cases and at the same time the way he points out Sissy in chapter 2, as "girl number twenty" shows how practical and full of figures and facts is Mr. Gradgrind.

When facts are all and no imagination and passion and emotion and feeling the absence of love and morality and without imagination childhood snatching away. So much emphasis on facts, utilitarianism and practicality.

It seems that in this novel, the roots of all kinds of education and upbringing is rooted in childhood. If people are not properly educated as children, it can have a devastating effect on all aspects of their life. At the same time, if people learn something in adulthood, it has little practical impact in people's life. For example, at the end of his life, Mr.Gradgrind, realizes his failed educational method, but this perception does not have much effect on his life or those around him.


As we can see from the novel there are two various types of education and learning philosophy which are depicted in the novel. Each of them has a profound effect on the characters and their destiny and personality as human beings.

Hard Time makes a compelling case that education is more than just learning facts in the school and as an uprising method. The novel emphasizes that the educational system based on emotional and fantacy components has many benefits. The narrative also demonstrates that this type of learning can occur at any point in one's life.

Dickens expresses his thoughts and opinion about education through this novel. It seems that he believed that education was being taught incorrectly by teachers and the education system. Teachers had too much power and imagination, fantac and creativity had very little place in the education system.

Sources: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

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