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Hard Times

Hard Times

by Charles Dickens

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Quote #1

[Gradgrind] was an affectionate father, after his manner; but he would probably have described himself (if he had been put, like Sissy Jupe, upon a definition) as 'an eminently practical' father. He had a particular pride in the phrase eminently practical, which was considered to have a special application to him. (1.3.8)

This is a great example of how the narrator can contradict a character. Gradgrind wants to call himself "eminently practical" even though the narrator tells us that more correct term is "affectionate." This is how we know he's not all bad.

Quote #2

'Now, it's a remarkable fact, sir, that it cut that man deeper, to know that his daughter knew of his being goosed, than to go through with it.' 'Good!' interrupted Mr. Bounderby. 'This is good, Gradgrind! A man so fond of his daughter, that he runs away from her! This is devilish good! Ha! ha! Now, I'll tell you what, young man. I haven't always occupied my present station of life. I know what these things are. You may be astonished to hear it, but my mother ran away from me […] I was born in a ditch and my mother ran away from me. Do I excuse her for it? No. Have I ever excused her for it? Not I. What do I call her for it? I call her probably the very worst woman that ever lived in the world, except my drunken grandmother. There's no family pride about me, there's no imaginative sentimental humbug about me. I call a spade a spade; and I call the mother of Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, without any fear or any favour, what I should call her if she had been the mother of Dick Jones of Wapping. (1.6.40-43)

When we realize that Bounderby's mother did no such thing, the difference in the way Sissy reacts to her father's actual abandonment of her and Bounderby's faked no-nonsense reaction becomes clear. He simply lacks the empathetic imagination to picture what it might be like to actually have a parent leave a child.

Quote #3

'Her father always had it in his head,' resumed Childers, feigning unconsciousness of Mr. Bounderby's existence, 'that she was to be taught the deuce-and-all of education. How it got into his head, I can't say; I can only say that it never got out. He has been picking up a bit of reading for her, here — and a bit of writing for her, there — and a bit of ciphering for her, somewhere else — these seven years.' (1.6.56)

One of the fundamental questions in the novel is whether a child needs actual parents or whether the right kind of education and upbringing is a much better replacement. Signor Jupe clearly believes that Sissy's life will be better if she is at the right school rather than with him.

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