lthough historians generally agree that the primary emphasis of the Industrial Revolution in England is on national prosperity due to progressive advancements in technology, there is an emergence of literature in which the characters and their actions influence the social situation: such is the case of Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times for These Times. Dickens conveys the grim reality of expectations within the social classes of Coketown, through name selection as a means of revealing personality. Through the analysis of Christian names and surnames for the main characters Thomas Gradgrind, Cecelia Jupe, and Stephen Blackpool, the author demonstrates how they influence the characterization, plot, and themes of the work.
In the opening chapter, Dickens portrays the character of Thomas Gradgrind as rigid, excessively intellectual, a man who makes no attempt to conceal his obsession with statistical facts and figures: "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts?nothing else will be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children . . . Stick to Facts . . . !" (Dickens, 1). As a synthesis of utilitarian views from John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, David Ricardo, and Thomas Robert Malthus, Mr. Gradgrind is a firm believer in the efficiency of the human mind when education subtracts fancy from the equation. Although he is aware of the two wisdoms, he is a harsh sceptic of that which exists in the heart. The lack of tangible proof to support the effectiveness of this source of emotional knowledge is suggestive of the biblical allusion to Doubting Thomas. Ironically, this disciple of Jesus does not blindly accept the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead. In order to confirm the story, he "[needs] to see and touch the scars for himself" (Illustrated Family Bible Stories, 247). Only when he feels the scars does Thomas place his faith in the knowledge of Jesus's resurrection.
Mr. Gradgrind carries this scepticism throughout the story, scarring his children with the domination of practical intelligence, while Tom and Louisa somehow cope with the starvation of their imagination. When Mr. Gradgrind observes them at the circus, he immediately admonishes Tom for wasting their valuable time observing mindless fancy: "I find it difficult to believe that you, with your education and resources, should [bring] your sister to a scene like this" (Dickens, 14). Although Louisa assumes the blame for their pursuit, the severity of Tom's punishment remains the same. Mr. Gradgrind reminds them of the opportunities that are available to those "replete with facts [and] trained to mathematical exactness" (Dickens, 14). The Bible provides insight for this situation. According to the Catholic Doors Ministry website, Thomas is Aramaic for "twin." The significance of this interpretation further strengthens the connection between character and the theme of imitation through the expectations parents impose upon their children. Thomas Gradgrind expects his children to become graduates of his factual system, and believes he is helping with their success by removing all sources of creative fancy. However, he is unaware of the scars he inflicts upon them as a result of his constant grinding. His heavy reliance upon facts weakens slightly during his conversation with Louisa concerning Mr. Bounderby's marriage proposal. When he presents her with the offer, he is taken aback by her response of cold detachment and listless life when she asks her father if he thinks she loves Bounderby. Unable to respond to the question in its emotional context, Mr. Gradgrind reverts to the safe haven of intellectualization by addressing the facts of the issue and reducing the problem to two questions which he answers for Louisa: "Does Mr. Bounderby ask [her] to marry him? Yes, he does. The sole remaining question then is: Shall [she] marry him? [Mr. Gradgrind thinks] nothing can be plainer than that" (Dickens, 77). When Louisa states that she does not have "a child's heart or a child's fear" (Dickens, 80), Mr. Gradgrind expresses his sense of achievement in his ability to "balance" his daughter, combining the mature mind of an adult with the prepubescent body of youth, yet Louisa compares the death of her innocence to the whitening and dying of embers in the fireplace.
Towards the end of the novel, the character of Thomas Gradgrind gradually becomes flexible. When Louisa returns home in a fit of emotional conflict during a stormy night, he is astonished to learn of the consequences of his education system upon his favourite child, then watch the pride of his heart and triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet? (Dickens, 165). As he ponders over the mistakes of his past, present, and future, he draws the conclusion that the scales of knowledge are tipped in favour of tangible Facts, and must help Louisa correct the spiritual imbalance between her mind and heart. In a genuinely sentimental moment, Mr. Gradgrind confesses his own fatal flaw to his daughter, a significant turning point for a man of sharp corners: Some persons hold that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. I [do not suppose] so; but I mistrust myself now? (Dickens, 168). He learns of the extreme negative results of his system when he visits Sleary's circus to find his son. Tom, hiding from the police as a clown, confesses the details of his modus operandi in the robbery of the Coketown Bank to his father, not expressing the least remorse for committing the crime, or for transferring the blame onto Stephen Blackpool. As Mr. Gradgrind offers Tom his forgiveness, his shock magnifies exponentially upon the discovery of Bitzer, the student who is now cold and calculating, and wants to arrest Tom to earn his former position at the Bank. When Mr. Gradgrind asks the former student if he has a heart that is "accessible to compassionate influence" (Dickens, 213), Bitzer replies that "[his heart] is accessible to Reason [and] to nothing else" (Dickens, 214). Mr. Gradgrind's philosophy returns to haunt him when Bitzer states that "everything from birth to death, [one must pay for] in cash" (HT, 1994). Borrowing money from others is shameful; people should not pursue what they cannot afford, a statement reflective and reminiscent of Mr. Gradgrind's earlier days, a serious mistake from which he intends to learn. The repetition of the quote referring to the two wisdoms, by Bob Peck in Peter Barnes's film adaptation of the novel, and the advice from Mr. Sleary conveys lessons that Mr. Gradgrind and the audience should learn: "People have too much unhappiness, that's why they must be amused" (HT, 1994).
Thomas Gradgrind's antithesis is the youthful and innocent Cecelia Jupe, daughter of the clown from Sleary's circus. Although she is knowledgeable about the stories of fairies, giants, and other magical creatures, she finds concepts such as National Prosperity difficult to grasp, therefore unable to achieve the type of education Mr. Gradgrind desires. For this reason, Dickens's selection of the name Cecelia for this character is most appropriate. The female form of the Latin word for "blind," the name is a religious reference, this time to Saint Cecilia of Rome. The connection between saint and character is unmistakable. According to the Acts of Cecilia, while everyone listens to the "profane music of her wedding. . . , Cecilia [sings] in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse? (par. 3). Her actions and refusal to worship false gods earn her the divine title as patron saint of music, musicians, and musical instruments: all sources which can encourage the birth of creative fancy. Akin to the musical saint, "Sissy" Jupe carries the wisdom of the heart that guides her to believe in knowledge that the naked eye cannot see, or that the written fact is unable to support. Although she devotes herself to learning rigid facts upon her adoption from the circus, it is a task with which she has difficulty fulfilling, a failure Mr. Gradgrind acknowledges and concedes: "You are an affectionate, earnest, good young woman, and?and we must make that do" (Dickens, 72).
Her duty as caretaker of Mrs. Gradgrind is a significant combination of opposites. Whereas Cecelia symbolizes optimism and the possibility of positive goodness brightening the dreary abyss of Coketown, Mrs. Gradgrind's dialogue conveys chronic pessimism as an invalid who is unable to tolerate intellectual change:
As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn't go and look at the shells and minerals and things [Tom and Louisa?s father provides] for [them], instead of circuses! ? I am sure [they] have enough to do ? Go and be somethingological directly. [Dickens, 17-18]
Peter Barnes also emphasizes the contrast between the characters. As Mrs. Gradgrind prepares herself for the eternal darkness of death, a light emits itself behind Cecilia?s head, representing an angel?s halo, the warmth of her compassion shining through the light?s heavenly glow.
Despite her dim-sighted beginnings, Cecilia Jupe is incredibly wise. According to Phillip V. Allingham, "Sissy immediately arouses the reader's sympathy, [in that] she is the victim of the classroom ogre" (Allingham, 20). She knows that one cannot harm pictures of flowers, or stack horses upon people in real life, but her common sense reveals to others that it is possible to imagine if the irrational image is appealing to the eye. The reservoir of her caring personality is fathomless, and has no preferences. After Mrs. Gradgrind dies, Sissy expends her energy on the younger Gradgrind children. She tends to Louisa?s emotional care as a friend and mentor after Louisa returns to Stone Lodge to recover from her emotional breakdown. Although scholars and literary critics joke about Cecilia?s surname rhyming with "dupe" as a reference to her lack of factual intelligence, she is neither stupid nor cowardly, and demonstrates her virtues through her acts of kindness. Out of concern for Louisa's well-being, Sissy visits Mr. Harthouse with "no charge from [Louisa]" (Dickens, 174), telling him to leave Coketown immediately and never return. Although he attempts to oppose her argument, her exposure to Louisa's character breeds a familiarity that against which Mr. Harthouse cannot compete. In Chapter VI of Book Three, titled "The Starlight," Cecilia walks with Rachel through the airy field, as a comforting "star" amidst the chaotic rottenness surrounding the disappearance of Stephen Blackpool. Upon discoverying Stephen in the Old Hell Shaft, she runs down the country road to recruit the necessary equipment and operators while Rachel stays to watch over Stephen. While the crowd watches the lift raise Stephen from the depths of Hell, Sissy learns of Tom's true role in the bank robbery, and whispers to the whelp to hide at Sleary's circus until she brings his father there for a heart-to-heart confession. Throughout the novel, Mr. Gradgrind imposes his philosophy of hard Facts upon Sissy, akin to the orders Cecilia receives when she must sacrifice to "false gods" (par. 2). The invisible angel that accompanies the saint is the guardian angel of common sense, a representative of the prevalent conflict between Fact and Fancy, and how important a balance of the two is to the human psyche.
The character most in need of a compromise is Stephen Blackpool. As a power-loom weaver in Mr. Bounderby's factory, he lives on the bottom rung of the employment hierarchy ladder in Coketown. When comparing his life to the "roses and thorns" analogy, Dickens believes there to be "a mistake in Stephen's case, whereby somebody else [has] his roses, and he [has] that same somebody else's thorns in addition to his own" (Dickens, 52). The thorns are a possible allusion to the crown of thorns Jesus wears during his Crucifixion, a most appropriate connection to the lower-class character whose name is Greek for "crown." He shares the name of Stephen, the first Christian martyr who dies from stoning for spreading blasphemy that "even the Temple [can] be destroyed without the loss of the true faith" (Allingham, 27).
Stephen Blackpool is also the target of rumours. The boisterous Slackbridge claims that Stephen betrays the proletariat to the employers, "upon which right glad would [the employers] be to see [the workers] creeping on [their] bellies all the days of [their] lives, like [serpents] in the garden" (Dickens, 185). Stephen speaks the truth to the factory workers when he says that the changes would do more harm than good. Although the chairmen of the United Aggregate Tribunal attempt to persuade Stephen to change his mind and side with his fellow employees, he upholds his promise to Rachel and refuses the offer. Slackbridge, the false saviour, seizes the opportunity to discredit him and justify the union's decision to ostracize him. Stephen's personal matters further complicate his predicament. His former wife, a drug addict, returns to haunt his already-bleak existence. Despite his past attempts to remove her from his life, he cannot do so, as the social conditions of divorce work against his favour. He wishes to marry Rachel, but is unable to pay for a divorce. When he asks Mr. Bounderby for advice on how to pursue this improvement in his life, the options are limited to non-existence, yet the laws present to punish him are more abundant:
"If I do her any hurt, sir, there's a law to punish me"
"Of course there is."
"If I flee from her, there's a law to punish me?""Of course there is."
"If I marry t'oother dear lass, there's a law to punish me?"
"Of course there is.""If I was to live wi' her an not marry her? there?s a law to punish me, in every innocent child belonging to me?"
"Of course there is.""Now a' God's name show me the law to help me!" [Dickens, 60]
His desire to attain something unattainable adds a wilful suspension of disbelief and "emotional complexity" to Stephen, "making him an even more believable character" (McLucas, par. 13). This dismal scenario connotes "his muddled psychological state in that 'Muddle and his name are forms of the same idea, a denial of clarity'--the muddying or blackening of a pool of water'" (Allingham, 27).
Although both Stephen the martyr and Stephen Blackpool the factory worker are denied the opportunity of fulfilling the calling to the posts in their hearts, they encounter influential angels. While angels tell Stephen the martyr to spread the word of Christianity, Stephen the factory worker sees angelic kindness in Rachel, who stays awake during the night to help his wife recover during her withdrawal. When he calls Rachel an angel, she modestly responds that angels "are not like [her]. Between them, and a working woman fu' of faults, there is a deep gulf set" (Dickens, 70). Although Stephen insists on her being an angel for saving his soul, this divine intervention is not sufficient to protect him from mortal danger.
Both Stephens also die for their beliefs and their determination to pursue what is right, despite the society?s deep-set opposition to the ideas. Stephen the martyr dies from his stoning by the Jewish community for his religious blasphemy, one of whom is the apostle Paul (Bible Stories, 216). Stephen Blackpool is persecuted by members of the trade union and Mr. Bounderby in the form of banishment from the factory and, ultimately, from Coketown in order to seek employment in another town. His coincidental disappearance from Coketown, in conjunction with his loitering around the Coketown Bank prior to the robbery, makes Stephen the prime suspect. Despite Rachel?s requests for him to return to tell his interpretation of the circumstances, he does not come back to Coketown. When Cecilia and Rachel discover that Stephen has fallen into the Old Hell Shaft, he is alive but he believes "it [will] soon [mangle] the life out of him" (Dickens, 202). When he is lifted from the darkness of the pit, he comments upon a star shining above them, a beacon Stephen perceives to have guided him "to the God of the poor; and through humility, and sorrow, and forgiveness, he [goes] to his Redeemer's rest" (Dickens, 204). In Peter Barnes's film adaptation, Mr. Gradgrind fulfills the task of declaring Stephen's innocence by posting smaller written notices over his larger parliamentary election posters, a motif highly suggestive of the increasing significance of the status of the factory worker (HT, 1994).
Throughout Hard Times, Dickens conveys elements of change in the British social class system through these characters. Although they come to life only through the author's descriptions, their qualities and fallacies endow them with convincing realism that brings them into all circles of society. Thomas Gradgrind allows his own desire of facts to stifle the intellectual development of his children, causing Louisa to have an emotional breakdown and Tom to develop into a gambling addict who must rob the local bank to pay off his debts. Cecilia Jupe, despite her arduous attempts to learn rigid Facts, is unable to suppress her imaginative connections to a flexible Fancy, an advantage she demonstrates through her telling of tales about faraway places and magical beings only the mind's eye can observe. Despite being ground between the mill-wheels of politics and humanity, Stephen Blackpool flows through life as best as his life situation permits, displaying the "most admirable of human qualities" (McLucas, par. 12) as he faces scenarios that challenge his moral fibre. The trials of judgment and error which compose the personalities of these characters can relate to the obstacles members of modern society encounter on a daily basis. In a factual society, they are the Stephen Blackpools who work tirelessly under the command of the Gradgrind CEOs. More Cecilia Jupes are necessary to counteract the detriments of the Gradgrind philosophy.
Allingham, Philip V. "Theme, Form, and the Naming of Names in Hard Times for These Times." Dickensian 87, 1 (Spring 1991): 17-31.
The Catholic Doors Ministry Christian Names. Catholic Doors Ministry. Updated in 2000. Accessed 26 February 2006. http://www.catholicdoors.com/misc/names.htm
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. For These Times. 2nd edition. Ed. George Ford and Sylvère Monod. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.
Hard Times. Directed and adapted by Peter Barnes. Prod. Richard Langridge. Music by Stephen Deutsch. Perf. Alan Bates, Bob Peck, Bill Paterson, Harriet Walter, and Richard E. Grant. BBC, Warner Bros., 1994.
Jones, Terry. Patron Saints Index: Alphabetical List. Catholic Community Forum. 26 February 2006. http://www.catholic.forum.com/saints/patron02.htm
Manser, Martin, ed. Illustrated Family Bible Stories. Bath, UK: Parragon Publishing, 1999.
McLucas, Bryan. "Characterization in Dickens' Hard Times. 26 February 2006. http://www.arches.uga.edu.~bryan/papers/hardtime.html
Last modified 19 April 2006