BOOK THE FIRST
The public house where the performers are staying is called Pegasus's Arms.
NOTE: The image of the horse continues to weave its way through the story, first in the classroom, then in Mr. Jupe's occupation, now in the hotel sign- Pegasus, the mythical flying horse. Such a fabled creature would never meet with Gradgrind or Bounderby's approval, but it is too dark for them to see either the sign or the picture inside. Dickens seems to be having fun by dangling these irritants under their noses without allowing the men to see them.
As Bounderby and Gradgrind wait impatiently for Sissy to find her father, they are joined by members of the troupe: Childers, famous for his Wild Huntsman act, and Kidderminster, who helps Childers's act by dressing as an infant. To emphasize the performers' childlike innocence, Dickens has given them names- Childers and Kidderminster- that suggest their youthful spirits. Notice, too, that Kidderminster plays Cupid, the ancient Roman god of love, usually portrayed as a young boy with a bow and arrow.
Many readers consider Hard Times to be an allegory, that is, a story whose characters represent or symbolize a concept or idea, usually as a moral lesson. Bounderby is seen to represent the greedy capitalist who profits from the sweat and labor of others; Gradgrind, the politician who adheres strictly to the utilitarian philosophy. The members of Sleary's troupe stand for the carefree, often frivolous side of life that so many in Coketown are denied. As you read, try to decide what Louisa, Bitzer, Sissy, and Stephen Blackpool (whom you will meet soon) represent in this approach to the novel. Ask yourself if some characters seem more obviously symbolic than others- that is, decide which characters are more like real human beings and which seem more like cardboard cutouts that Dickens uses to prove a point.
Childers tells them that Jupe, who does acrobatic tricks on horseback, has been making many mistakes in his performances recently.
NOTE: Dickens uses many obscure theatrical terms- "missing his tip," "banners," "ponging," etc.- but he is careful to explain them in the context of the speeches.
Bounderby is scornful of all of this jargon, and Gradgrind is offended by what he perceives as lack of respect in the performers' attitudes. But Kidderminster and Childers are unimpressed with their disapproval.
One of Dickens's most effective comic tools is the contrast of a self-important character with one who is irreverent and cocky. In this scene, Dickens allows Bounderby to inflate himself with his own pomposity time and again, only to have one of the performers deflate him with a sly remark.
Childers tells them that Jupe has left town, despondent over what he sees as the loss of his talent and agility. He'd rather disappear than have Sissy see him failing.
Bounderby continues to speak scornfully of Jupe, but Childers stops him cold. Bounderby can think what he wants of Jupe, Childers tells him, but he can't express his opinion here, among Jupe's friends. Childers goes on to say that Sissy will never believe her father deserted her; they were too close.
Hearing of the love between Sissy and her father reminds us of what we have seen of Gradgrind and Louisa. What a difference there is between the two families! It's a difference that will take on greater importance in the future.
Gradgrind is in favor of taking Sissy under his wing as an example to Louisa of what the life she has been so curious about- the life of the performer- comes to in the end. Bounderby thinks Gradgrind is simply asking for trouble. As their argument continues, other members of the troupe begin to gather in the room.
Dickens's fondness for these circus people is even clearer here. He speaks of their "gentleness," their "childishness," and of their generosity and readiness to help each other selflessly.
Some readers have charged that Dickens is too sentimental in portraying the lower classes. They are often made to seem so pure and noble that they lack credibility. Do you agree? If you look for realism, these characters might seem too good to be true. But if you see the novel as an allegory, you might agree that they are not meant to represent full-bodied characters, but the alternative to the strict, bloodless theories and practices championed by Bounderby and Gradgrind.
Mr. Sleary, owner of the circus, enters the room. He's so stricken with asthma that he speaks with a terrible lisp. As he quizzes Gradgrind about what might be done for Sissy, she comes in. Sensing immediately that her father is gone, she sobs uncontrollably.
Gradgrind offers to give Sissy a home and an education as long as she makes up her mind immediately and promises not to speak or write to any of her friends from the troupe. Sleary offers her an alternative. She can stay with the troupe, who will love and care for her always. Sissy is tom but decides to go with Gradgrind after he reminds her to think of what her father would want her to do.
Sissy sadly says good-bye to her friends. Sleary's parting words ask her to think with kindness whenever she sees any horse-riding troupe in the future. People can't always be learning and working, he tells her- they must be "amuthed."
Sleary is clearly speaking for Dickens in this speech. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is an old saying that expresses the same idea. Right now, Bounderby and Gradgrind think very little about what Sleary says, but watch for Gradgrind to learn the wisdom in the words.
[Hard Times Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.