How Does Dickens Use the First Four Chapters of ‘Hard Times' to Introduce the Characters and Themes of the Novel?

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How does Dickens use the first four chapters of ‘Hard Times' to introduce the characters and themes of the novel?

Charles Dickens wrote ‘Hard Times' in 1854. He had a number of reasons for writing it. Firstly, he wished to educate readers about the working conditions of some of the factories in the industrial towns. He wanted to demonstrate how appallingly the affluent factory workers treated the poverty-stricken working people. This is an issue Dickens felt strongly about, as he himself was forced to work in a blacking warehouse at the age of twelve, when his father was imprisoned for non-payment of debt. Relating to this also, Dickens wished to expose the assumption that wealth runs parallel to morality, something that is cruelly shattered in this novel, due to his portrayal of the moral monster, Mr. Bounderby. Dickens was also campaigning for the importance of imagination in life, and not for people's life to be reduced to a collection of material facts and statistical analysis. Dickens' favourable portrayal of the Circus, who he describes as caring so 'little for Plain Fact', is an example of this.

In Chapter 1, we are introduced to Mr Thomas Gradgrind, the headmaster at the school. Gradgrind is a utilitarian who is the founder of the educational system in Coketown. The characters' names are almost always an immediate indication of where the character fits on Dickens' moral spectrum. Thomas Gradgrind, "a man of realities" is a hard educator who grinds his students through a factory-like process, hoping to produce graduates (grads). 'Eminently practical' is Gradgrind's recurring description throughout the novel, and practicality is something he zealously aspires to. Gradgrind repeats the word "facts" several times in the first chapter, emphasising the great importance he has given to analytical, logical, mathematical learning. From the very beginning, Dickens establishes himself within a contemporary debate on the nature of learning, knowledge and...
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