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analysis of hard time by charles dickens

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Introduction

Chapter One: The One Thing Needful The novel begins with a short introduction. Inside a classroom, "the speaker" repeats the exclamation "Now, what I want is, Facts." He presents the argument that the formation of a child's mind must be rooted in the study of fact. The schoolroom is as hard and plain as the teacher's teaching style. All of the children are focused on him. Besides "the speaker", there is also "the schoolmaster and the third grown person" who stand before the pupils. Analysis This chapter has little narrative content (only three paragraphs), but its imagery is intense. From the very beginning, Dickens establishes himself within a contemporary debate on the nature of learning, knowledge and education. The description of the classroom is definitely satire, a critique of utilitarianism, and similar philosophies that suggested the absolute reliance upon calculations and facts in opposition to emotion, artistic inspiration and leisure. The novel is divided into three "books" entitled Sowing, Reaping and Garnering. This agricultural motif is introduced by the "sowing" of facts as "seeds" into the fertile minds of the young boys and girls. "The one thing needful" is the seed of "fact" and even though the insistence upon "hard facts" seems infertile and unyielding, the motif of sowing makes the classroom a literal kindergarten. To be more precise, the imagery of "sowing" and horticulture varies from the children as the planted field and the children as plants themselves. At one point, "the Speaker" charges the instructor to "plant�and root out" in order to form the children's minds. Later, the children are described as "little vessels then and there arranged in order," not unlike the wisps of hair on the side of the Speaker's head, humorously described as "a plantation of firs." The sum of Dickens' imagery contrasts the words of gardening and horticulture with the actual scene depicted: "plain, bare, monotonous�inflexible, dry and dictatorial." Dickens means to say that there is no true sowing taking place in the "vault of a schoolroom." ...read more.

Middle

Especially as she is a member of a traveling circus, we can expect Cecilia to represent "Art" and "Fancy" in contrast to M'Choakumchild, one of 141 schoolmasters who "had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs." Besides the allusion to St. Cecilia, Dickens alludes to Morgiana, a character in the classic story "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"�one of the Arabian Nights tales. The reader should always note the irony in Dickens' allusions: while Dickens' characters argue against fanciful literature, Dickens' is relying upon it to compose his story. In this case, Dickens' simile presents M'Choakumchild's search for "the robber Fancy" in terms of Morgiana's searching for (and hiding of) the thieves in "Ali Baba." The metaphor of the children as eager "vessels" is made explicit when the "vessels" before M'Choakumchild become the "jars" before Morgiana. And the motif of robbers and villains is finalized when we remember that Ali Baba and the forty thieves were more hero than criminal. M'Choakumchild is labeled "gentleman" but his intention to seek and destroy "the robber Fancy lurking within" makes "the robber Fancy" (childish imagination) a more noble personification. Instead, the teachers are the ones who seem criminal. The most important allusion of the chapter is the title: "Murdering the Innocents." The reader should expect Dickens work to be full of Biblical and Christian allusions as he is writing to a largely sentimental popular audience. While the reference may be more inaccessible, erudite or unrecognizable for modern young readers, Dickens' 1854 British audience immediately saw the reference to King Herod. Soon after the birth of Christ, Herod fears for his throne and has all of the male babies in Bethlehem executed (in the hopes of murdering the Christ child). In literary circles, the phrase "murder of the innocents" is exclusively used to describe this Biblical story. ...read more.

Conclusion

He describes the periods of his life as follows: "Vagabond, errand-boy, vagabond, labourer, porter, clerk, chief manager, small partner, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown." He taught himself to read by looking at the outsides and signs of buildings. Mr. Gradgrind informs his friend Bounderby that Louisa and Thomas were caught spying at a circus and Mrs. Gradgrind replies "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry." Louisa and Thomas are present and the three adults express their disappointment. Bounderby makes it clear that the circus is composed of the very vagabonds that Louisa and Thomas should be grateful for having avoided. For his part, Bounderby adds that the circus is a "cursed bad thing for a girl like Louisa," subsequently apologizing for his profanity, but to his credit, he did not have a "refined growing up." Mr. Gradgrind is intent upon understanding what might have motivated Louisa and Thomas to stray from their rules and standards. Bounderby brings Cecilia Jupe (one of the "strollers' children") to Gradgrind's attention and he convinces him that Cecilia must be the factor influencing the Gradgrind children. Mr. Gradgrind is at first hesitant but he soon agrees with Bounderby that Cecilia must be removed from the school so that she might not infect the other students with her ideas. The chapter ends with Gradgrind and Bounderby's immediate venture into Coketown to confront "Signor Jupe" and remove Sissy from school. Analysis: Josiah Bounderby dominates the chapter, much as his physical figure dominates those surrounding him. At least at this point in the novel, it is unclear how exactly he became a "self-made" man and arrived at his fortunes. Bounderby is a man of social mobility and ever expanding boundaries, but Dickens' social commentary suggests that Bounderby is hypocritical: even as he complains that he had to crawl out of poverty without aid, he is the firmest advocate of Sissy Jupe's dismissal from the school. Other characters that are introduced in this chapter are Mrs. Gradgrind, an unintelligent hypochondriac. Three younger children, Jane, Adam Smith and Malthus are briefly depicted. ...read more.

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