BOOK THE FIRST
With Gradgrind on one side at home and M'Choakumchild on the other at school, Sissy has been thinking of running away. She stays at the Gradgrind home, sustained only by the hope that her father will come for her.
Gradgrind can't understand why Sissy refuses to see her father as a hopeless villain. And M'Choakumchild reports that she has no talent for science, mathematics, or history. When asked what is the first principle of political economy, Sissy replied, "To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me."
You might recognize Sissy's answer as the Golden Rule. She has obviously been raised to respect decency and fair play instead of learning the exacting standards of political economy. But those values will not serve her well in M'Choakumchild's class.
Sissy, on one of the rare occasions she talks to Louisa, expresses a wistful desire to be the Gradgrind daughter Louisa, and "know so much." Louisa can't understand this wish. Sissy is nice to everyone, helpful in the house, more than Louisa could ever be.
Pressed by Louisa, Sissy tells of her loving father, Jupe. He's a clown who used to cry when he couldn't make audiences laugh. This had begun to happen more and more frequently. Some might think him a bit mentally unbalanced, but they do not know him as Sissy does.
Sissy begins to cry at these memories, and Louisa comforts her before asking Sissy to recount what happened when her father left her. Sissy speaks tearfully of her father's intense depression and of being sent that day to pick up a bottle of nine-oils. When she returned from her errand, he was gone. She still hopes that every letter Gradgrind carries is from her father.
Does Louisa seem a bit cruel when she presses Sissy to relive painful memories? Perhaps. But this is the first time we have seen her show concern for someone besides Tom. She is intensely curious to find out what a loving relationship between father and daughter is like. Who can blame her? She has seen no example of it in her own home.
From that conversation on, Louisa waits with as much hope as Sissy does whenever Gradgrind holds a letter, and shows as much disappointment when it turns out not to be from Mr. Jupe. Gradgrind attributes Sissy's false hopes to her poor education.
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© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.