3/23/2012

What is Dickens' view of education in Hard Times and how does he communicate it?

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From looking at the first chapter of Dickens’ novel, Hard Times, it can be seen that the author holds a negative view on the system of education used at the time.


Thomas Gradgrind, the schoolteacher, abruptly introduces the chapter with a monologue, the nature of which reveals him to be devoid of imagination. This is reflected in the constant repetition of his belief that, “Facts alone are wanted in life.” This opinion is also aired at the end of the chapter, representing Gradgrind’s unchanging nature.


Dickens persuades the reader to dislike Gradgrind, as he dislikes what he represents, by using a number of methods. When Gradgrind rudely refers to educated children as “reasoning animals” this further enforces the reader’s immediate dislike for him. The statement also serves to show the lack of individuality that he strives to attain in his classroom as he renders the children to a state free from characteristics. This opinion is repeated when he states that everything apart from facts should be “rooted out”, obviously including personal beliefs and thoughts. By referring to Gradgrind impersonally as “the speaker”, the reader is also encouraged to feel cold towards him.


The room where the children study is described to be a “plain, bare, monotonous vault”, lacking any stimulation for the minds of the children. Through this rhetorical statement, which uses repetition of three to stress the featureless nature of the room, Dickens presents his view that schools at the time were intentionally created as factories whose purpose was to manufacture identical “educated” beings.


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Repugnant imagery is used to describe Gradgrind’s physically, his forefinger, forehead, coat, legs and shoulders are all described as being “square”. By using a mathematical figure to represent the schoolteacher’s clothes and body parts, Dickens further demonstrates his monotonous nature, free from creativity. In addition to this, it is stated that Gradgrind’s neck cloth is “trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp”, showing the negative power that he exudes over even something as small as his clothes.


Dickens once again uses repetition in the phrase, “The emphasis was helped by”, in reference to Gradgrind’s distasteful features. This exposes his authoritarian temperament, as each time that the phrase is repeated four times, a new level of control is totalled.


Dickens employs contrast of imagery to firstly unpleasantly describe Gradgrind’s head as being covered with hair “which bristled on the skirts of his bald head”, and secondly to liken it to “the crust of a plum pie”. This stark distinction exists to expose how unpleasant Gradgrind is.


Lastly, the children in the classroom are referred to in Gradgrind’s own view as “little vessels … ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.” This mathematical, controlled feel which is applied to everything in Gradgrind’s classroom shows how Dickens views the education system as a process by which the innocence and imagination of a child is destroyed.





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