BOOK THE FIRST
Bounderby and Gradgrind pass through Coketown on their way to find the Jupes. It is a depressing and ugly town, full of harsh noises and foul smells. The red bricks of the building have been blackened by smoke that pours like "interminable serpents" from sooty chimneys. All of the buildings are monotonously similar, and the piston of the huge steam engine moves up and down "like the head of an elephant."
The images of the serpentlike smoke and the steam engine that resembles an elephant's head will be used throughout the novel to indicate the mark that industry has placed on the town, which has become like a jungle.
There are eighteen churches in Coketown that no one attends, despite a committee that argues in Parliament that the citizens should be forced to go to services. Other committees testify that the citizens drink too much, take opium, go to sleazy hangouts to sing and dance. As for Bounderby and Gradgrind, they see the people as lazy and ungrateful, dissatisfied no matter what is done for them. Dickens wonders if there is any relation between these citizens, dulled by their boring, impoverished lives, and the melancholy Gradgrind children. Both the citizens and the children have been denied "fancy." Dickens merely raises the question here, but there is little doubt about the conclusion he implies.
Dickens calls this chapter "The Keynote," which is the note or tone on which a musical composition is based. It is important to Dickens that we understand the conditions that affect the lives of Coketown citizens if we are to understand his book and the anger that caused him to write it.
Bounderby and Gradgrind are surprised to see Sissy Jupe running toward them. Chasing her is the colorless Bitzer, teasing her about her definition of a horse. Gradgrind scolds Bitzer for taunting the girl and then asks her to lead him and Bounderby to the hotel where the performers are staying.
Notice the difference between Bounderby and Gradgrind in this scene and the one that follows. Although they are portrayed as friends, there are distinct differences in personality between them. Which of them seems to have the softer side?
[Hard Times Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.