How does Dickens present his attitudes to education in the opening chapters of hard times?

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          How does Dickens present his attitude to                        

                 education in the opening chapters

                           of “Hard Times”?


Charles Dickens presents his ideas and attitude towards education in the Victorian times through his descriptive language, storyline and characterisation in the opening chapters of his novel “Hard Times”. It is a condition-of-England book which means a story that shows a representation of life at the time it was written. It highlights the economic and social problems England faced during the period and incorporates them into the story.

This is a style that Dickens is known for using in most of his works.

Dickens brings across his opinions of movements such as Romanticism and Utilitarianism through his use of language and the way he presents his characters. The novel was published in 1854 during a time when industry in England was expanding and developing resulting in a higher demand for workers. Because of this, child labour became common, this meant that many children were not receiving a proper and decent education, and it is these circumstances that affected Dickens’s life.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812 into a middle class family and received a good education in his early years, but then his father lost a great deal of money and he was forced to end his education and go to work in a shoe-dye factory . Here, he experienced an education where life was about the facts of production and little else.

Dickens considered this period the most terrible of his life, however it was experiences such as these that shaped much of his future writing, especially his ideas on childhood. Also, the Socialist ideas that dominate “Hard Times” are most likely influenced by this unhappy time in his life. The title itself suggests Dickens’s opinion on the state England was in at that time.

After his father was released from prison several months later, Dickens was allowed to return to school despite the reluctance of his mother. This resulted in Dickens developing a bitter resentment towards his mother which most likely influenced the many spiteful female characters portrayed in his novels. The character of Nancy from his novel “Oliver Twist” for example, could be seen as Dickens view of an ideal maternal female.

His schooling was once again interrupted and ultimately ended when Dickens was forced to return to work again when he was just fifteen years old. He became a clerk in a law firm then a shorthand reporter in the courts, and finally a parliamentary and newspaper reporter which is how he began his storytelling.

Throughout ‘Hard Times’ Dickens expresses his views by depicting the problems in their current social and educational state through his characters and plotlines. Dickens is able to emphasis the problems using a variety of dramatic techniques such as Satire. Satire is the use of wit, especially irony, sarcasm and ridicule, to criticize faults. Other techniques that can achieve this are the use of Caricatures and parodies. Parodies imitate people to mock their role in society and a Caricature is when the defining features, in personality and appearance, are exaggerated for comedic purposes. Dickens uses these techniques to show his views on the state England was in. The character of Thomas Gradgrind is described using Caricatures and Satire in the opening chapter of “Hard Times” for instance, he is described as having square features on a number of occasions, showing that he is very to-the-point and there is nothing else to him except facts.

The novel is divided into three parts; sowing, reaping and garnering. These are all words that have an agricultural meaning and they appear in order of the growing process. The relevance of this is because the characters grow and progress throughout the book and in the opening chapters the children are taught and moulded by Thomas Gradgrind. His way of teaching is as if the children are plants and he is the farmer, growing them exactly how he wants them to turn out. It is also as if the children are being weeded of imagination and their very childhood.

Dickens appears to believe in Paternalism, the idea that a parent, most commonly a father, is in control and makes decisions for all around him which they must follow, whether they like the decisions or not. This attitude in society is that all is provided for by a male figure who has power. From a political point of view, a person with power such as a the prime minister, should provide for everyone regardless of class. Dickens may have developed these opinions as during his early life, when he was a working class citizen, his father inherited some money which allowed him to return to the middle class and continue his education. His father overruled his mother’s objections to keep him working. This shows how Dickens believed it beneficial to have one person make the decisions and act as a father figure.

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Evidence supporting that Dickens may have been in favour of the idea of paternalism is shown at the beginning of “Hard Times” through Thomas Gradgrind’s character. Gradgrind is shown to be bringing up his children based on a utilitarianism view. “I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children”. Even with these views, Dickens shows it is also important to incorporate an element of Romanticism which is an idea that “pretty things” are embraced, and seen as an escape from day to day realities. Dickens tries to portray the importance of ...

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