How does Dickens shape the reader's impressions of the Gradgrind education system in the first three chapters of Hard Times

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How does Dickens shape the reader’s impressions of the Gradgrind education system in the first three chapters of Hard Times

Hard Times is a powerful use of satire. The satire is aimed at the Victorian school system and some values of the Victorian period. The novel presents us a fictional town called ‘Coketown’. It introduces us to a man called Thomas Gradgrind, a satirical character with the basis of a Victorian school master. Dickens wrote this novel to attack the Victorian school system because he did not believe that it was right. He uses satire a great deal in the novel to emphasise how it does not work and why it should change. The satire is directed ‘The Gradgrind Philosophy’, Thomas Gradgrind’s belief system.

Gradgrind greatly believes in his ‘philosophy’ even saying ‘‘this is the principle on which I bring up my own children’’ emphasising his believes in it. The Gradgrind philosophy is shown to be authoritarian, bullying and fanatical. He puts forwards these beliefs in an utterly rigid upfront and violent way. This philosophy reduces the children to products, practically de-humanising them. It destroys the

children’s imaginations, their innocence and their individuality. The system is only interested in measuring and is an exaggerated version on utilitarianism. Utilitarianism originated with the economist Adam Smith and then Jeremy Bentham built on it. Dickens attacks this because he believes that individuality and emotions are deeply important.

Dickens presents us with the character Thomas Gradgrind in this novel. We are given a very vivid description of him and Dickens uses a number of devices to do this. His first device is the name ‘Gradgrind’. If the name is split up you get ‘Grad’ and ‘grind’. The ‘Grad’ part refers to a graduate of the fact system or a grade, evaluation or judgement. The ‘grind’ part refers to grinding teeth, a grinder. This process is associated with inanimate objects, the way in which the school dehumanises the children. The ‘grind’ part of the name is also related to how the children are being ground down to just stores of facts and they are being ground down losing all emotion. We are given a very vivid description of Thomas Gradgrind himself. The first bit of description is ‘‘eyebrows for its base’’, which emphasises the size of his forehead and also that it is a concrete base. Then it refers to ‘‘the speaker’s square forefinger’’; this shows that the schoolmaster runs under things on a board, showing that he emphasises everything and all the facts. Then it talks about ‘‘speaker’s square coat’’; this shows us that he is a very rigid man, he has a very straight back and a very rigid torso. Again the repetition of square emphasises his rigid and firm beliefs. He is set on his ways like the facts he believes in.

Again Dickens refers to his posture by saying that his ‘‘neck cloth seems to be trained to take him by the throat’’; this is similar to a choke chain to train his behaviour and to keep his head up.

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Then Dickens refers to Gradgrind’s face he says ‘‘the speaker’s mouth which was wide and thin’’; he has an evil face, a mouth which does a lot of talking but does not smile. Then finally it refers to the speaker’s ‘‘square wall of a forehead’’; a criticism of his brains, that it is full of brains but nothing else. His brain is a warehouse of facts. ‘‘all covered with nubs’’ suggesting that his head is so full his head is about to explode. Finally Thomas Gradgrind speaks in a very short and sharp way for example ‘now what I want ...

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