Comment on the way Dickens presents the characters of Gradgrind, Sissy and Bitzer in the opening chapters of 'Hard Times'

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Pre 1914 Prose Coursework

Comment on the way Dickens presents the characters of Gradgrind, Sissy and Bitzer in the opening chapters of ‘Hard Times’

Dickens was born on February 7th 1812, during the Victorian era. He wrote of the conditions and the people of his time while working as a reporter (for a paper called ‘Household Words’) being sent around the country. He spent much of his time exploring in the streets of London and wrote from experience and deep knowledge of his city, drawing character from his life and placing them in familiar situations and surroundings.

As a young boy, Dickens began work in a factory, which scarred his childhood. There were no health and safety laws and many working class children had to leave school at the age of twelve and child labour was commonplace. At the time of writing ‘Hard Times’ Dickens was separated from his wife, he was trapped, like Stephen Blackpool, the mill worker in an unhappy marriage. ‘Hard Times’ is one of Dickens’ shortest novels, it was first serialised in ‘Household Words’ and can be linked to his disturbed youth. The Industrial Revolution had transformed England from an agricultural nation into one that contained places like Coketown (used instead of Manchester). ‘Hard Times’ refers to the changes made by the Industrial Revolution.

The nineteenth century was one of expansion and change in almost every activity. Between 1837 and 1901 the population of London more than doubled, because of steam power and new machinery used in mining, mills, potteries, and the railway. As most of Britain’s trade, and therefore money, was dependant on this, people moved to be closer to their work. Although this sudden and unprepared increase in population meant that living and working conditions changed lives daily causing workers to earn little and cities to become crowded as disease ridden slums.

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The subtitles for the three books of the novel - ‘Sowing’, ‘Reaping’, and ‘Garnering’ – have strong Biblical references. ‘Sowing’ has sixteen chapters, in which the setting and characters are sown. By the end of this book we can begin to understand the destinies of the characters. ‘Reaping’ has twelve chapters and reflects the harvest: copious for some but meagre for others. In this book we see a sudden change to the characters worlds Dickens has created. ‘Garnering’ has nine chapters. Just as Biblical Ruth garnered the fields, picking wheat dropped by the reapers, the characters also garner, in ...

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