A STEP BEYOND
11. Dickens at first seems to suggest that Bounderby and Gradgrind come from the same mold. They are good friends, and they agree in theory on matters of education, politics, and the workers of Coketown. But as the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that the men are basically different. Bounderby is essentially a capitalist, concerned with his own greed at the expense of the factory workers. Gradgrind is a politician and philosopher who believes that his ideas are promoting "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." Trying to do good, Gradgrind has become blinded and oppressive, but his intentions are decent.
Gradgrind is capable of learning from his mistakes. Bounderby is not. When Gradgrind is made aware of Louisa's unhappiness, he undergoes a major change of attitude; he grows from the experience. When Bounderby is made aware of Louisa's misery, and when he is exposed as a liar and a fraud, he undergoes no change. He is as selfish and pompous as ever. In short, Gradgrind is a more rounded, complex character than Bounderby, who retains the same postures and prejudices from beginning to end.
12. The "Horse-riding" first represents all that is harmful and dangerous in the Bounderby/Gradgrind world. Because the circus exists only for the purposes of entertainment- "fancy"- it is seen as a threat to the pursuit of fact that Gradgrind regards as the basis of education. Tom and Louisa's interest in the troupe of performers suggests their eventual rebellion from the dictates of their father.
By the end of the novel, the "horse-riding" is seen as necessary to the well-being of the citizens of Coketown, as important as learning and work. People must be amused, says Sleary, and he speaks to man's need to escape from his world to the world of imagination. Citizens deprived of such escape end up emotionally repressed or possibly criminal, as evidenced by the characters of Louisa and Tom.
The horse-riding also serves a symbolic plot device. Tom, fleeing from the law, ends up in hiding there as a clown. And it is Sleary who provides him not only with a hiding place but with a means to escape from the country. The troupe that Gradgrind once treated with sneering disdain has saved his son from arrest. "Fancy" has, in one sense, become Gradgrind's salvation as well.
13. Stephen first sees the star as he's lying in the pit of the abandoned mine. He tells Rachael as he's dying that the star made him think of her and that it helped clear away some of the "muddle" from his mind. For Stephen, the "muddle" represents the whole confused tangle of his life- from his disastrous marriage to the unhappy plight of the working man. The star that brings some clarity to this "muddle" suggests both Rachael, who was the only bright light in his existence, and the heavenly rest that he will soon enjoy. As the villagers carry Stephen's body toward that star, we are told that it leads to "the god of the poor." Because Stephen symbolizes all of the oppressed workers that Dickens champions in this book, the star symbolizes the reward that Dickens feels waits for them at their death, a reward they would never enjoy in this life.
14. Sissy Jupe is the one character who is wholly good. Though at first she is scorned by Gradgrind and Bounderby for being a performer's daughter, and then is removed from school because she cannot learn the Gradgrind way, Sissy slowly exerts a moral force of goodness on many of the characters. After a period of time in the Gradgrind household, she makes her mark on the younger children and even on Mrs. Gradgrind, providing a "spirit" that even Gradgrind notices (but cannot identify). The "Wisdom of the Heart" that Sissy represents (and which Dickens implies is the true wisdom, superior to that of the head) is felt by Louisa, Rachael, and even Harthouse. Without her, the novel would have no standard by which to judge the other characters and their moral flaws. Of all the characters, only Sissy will go on to know the pleasures of a family. As a product of the world of "fancy" (the "horse-riding"), Sissy underscores the coldhearted and destructive influences of the world of fact.
15. In answering this question, you should first define "allegory." (An allegory is a story in which characters represent concepts or abstractions, usually to underline a moral principle.) Then you should choose the characters you feel are most allegorical and talk about what they represent. For example, Gradgrind represents the philosophy of Utilitarianism, a leading political movement that believes in "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." Bounderby stands for the greed and insensitivity of capitalism, more concerned with profit than with the welfare of his workers. Stephen is the "martyred" working man, oppressed and exploited by both management and the organizers and leaders of the union. Mrs. Sparsit and Harthouse stand for the aristocracy: she clings to past snobbery and false superiority; he is bored, cynical, rootless, and amoral. Through Sleary's circus we see the kindhearted and generous vagabonds who bring pleasure through entertainment and provide "fancy" to a starving populace fed only on fact. And Sissy Jupe, the product of that environment, is a symbol of moral good that eventually conquers much of what is self-interested and harmful in the world.
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© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.