Comment on the way in which Dickens presents the characters of Gradgrind, Sissy and Bitzer in Chs. 1 and 2.

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Teresa Morris                AS English - "Hard Times" by Dickens                VI Form College        3.10.2002

1.        Comment on the way in which Dickens presents the characters of Gradgrind, Sissy and Bitzer in Chs. 1 and 2.

"Now, what I want is, Facts."  With these opening words to "Hard Times", spoken by Thomas Gradgrind, Dickens declaims Gradgrind's values in life.  Gradgrind's gives his instructions to the class teacher in unequivocal terms, using repetition of the word "Facts" several times to emphasise his narrow vision of the purpose of education and he closes with the words "Stick to Facts, sir!"  

Through his subsequent description of the classroom and of Gradgrind's physical appearance Dickens subtly gives us an idea of his very personality.   The description of the room as "a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom" parallels the inflexibility and solidity of both Gradgrind's personality and his physical appearance.     He even outlines his appearance in architectural terms, talking of his "square wall of a forehead" and by repetition of the adjective "square", as in "square forefinger", "square coat, square legs, square shoulders", we are given a vision of unrelenting straightness, monotony and solidity.    All this is achieved in a forthright, good-natured manner (like Gradgrind himself), through the use of irony and an exaggerated, satirical humour, which entices the reader into colluding with the writer in his mockery of Gradgrind.     In Chapter II he develops this theme through the use of metaphors such as "ready to weigh any parcel of human nature", and we understand that Gradgrind is without any imagination or humanitarian feelings and is proud of it, seeing value only in measurable and incontestable "Facts".  

Dickens then presents us with two contrasting young people in the forms of Sissy and Bitzer.   Once again he uses both the description of the room (Sissy…… came in for the beginning of a sunbeam of which Bitzer……….caught the end")  and their contrasting physical appearances underline the differences between them.   Sissy is given in sunny, colourful terms but Bitzer is described as cold and "unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge", encouraging the reader to value natural, human emotion over cold and bare facts. The very choice of names, an alliterative diminutive (Sissy) for her instead of the warlike surname of "Blitzer" for the boy, gives an contrasting feel to the way we are expected to view these two characters.

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Bitzer is praised for his factual definition of a horse, using no imaginative language, and in this way Dickens shows us that imagination is anathema to everyone we have met so far, except for Sissy.   Our sympathy towards her is aroused as she becomes confused, frightened and humiliated by the adults.   She alone is described in emotive terms such as "thrown into the greatest alarm".  She alone uses words such as "pretty and pleasant".

Thus by means of irony, exaggeration, metaphor, and humour we are introduced to these three characters.       Dickens' use of ...

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