A. Read the following excerpt from Chapter Two of Dickens's novel, then attempt to answer the questions following in the spaces provided. Although you may choose to answer in point-form, please be neat: your answers will be evaluated. Afterwards, form groups as instructed, and proceed with the co-operative learning exercise.

"Now, if Mr. M'Choakumchild," said the gentleman, "will proceed to give his first lesson here, Mr. Gradgrind, I shall be happy, at your request, to observe his mode of procedure."

Mr. Gradgrind was much obliged. "Mr. M'Choakumchild, we only wait for you."

So, Mr. M'Choakumchild began in his best manner. He and some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs. He had been put through an immense variety of paces, and had answered volumes of head-breaking questions. Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and leveling, vocal music and drawing from models were all at the ends of his ten chilled fingers. He had worked his stony way into Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Councilís Schedule B, and had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics and physical sciences, French, German, Latin, and Greek. He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two-and-thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, MíChoakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more! He went to work, in this preparatory lesson, not unlike Morgiana in the Forty Thieves: looking into all the vessels ranged before him, one after another, to see what they contained. Say, good M'Choakumchild. When from thy boiling store shalt thou fill each jar brimful by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within, or sometimes only main him and distort him? [From Hard Times For These Times (1854), Ch. 2: "Murdering the Innocents."]


"Schedule B" was established by a special committee of the Privy Council as the syllabus for state-funded schools in 1846 to specify which subjects were to be mastered by those students training to become teachers.

"Morgiana," Ali Baba's slave in the story of the Forty Thieves in The Arabian Nights' Entertainments, kills the robbers by pouring boiling oil into the large jars in which they have been hiding. As a child, Dickens probably read "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" in Jonathan Scott's six-volume edition of 1811, although the standard Victorian edition was E. W. Lane's (1839-41).

"Style" may be defined by the use of diction, syntax, imagery, rhythm, and figurative devices such as imagery, simile, metaphor, and metonymy.

B. As a Group

1. Clear up any difficult words and phrases encountered during individual reading.

2. Reach consensus on the authorial intention ('theme') of the passage.

3. Elect one committee member to serve as scribe in order to record the discussion.

4. When discussing each of the questions, reformulate your answers as complete sentences.

5. Before making your report to the class, peer-edit the group's responses to all questions.

6. When ready to make your report to the class, so indicate to your instructor.

7. Before you begin your report, indicate who was in your group and who served as the scribe.

8. If the group accepted one member's answer without alteration or addition, give that member credit in the report.

C. Grading as a Group (25 marks)

1. Co-operation: how well did your group move towards consensus without neglecting any of its members Ideas?

2. Clarity: how clear were your group's spokespersons in presenting your ideas?

3. Quality of Answers: when weighed against the answers of other groups, how complete and well-reasoned were yours?

4. Overall Effectiveness: how dynamic and interesting a presentation did your group make?

5. Understanding: what level of understanding of literary terms and of the questions posed do your group's answers reveal?

C. 1 2 3 4 5

1. Poor Weak Passable Good Excellent

2. Poor Weak Passable Good Excellent

3. Poor Weak Passable Good Excellent

4. Poor Weak Passable Good Excellent

5. Poor Weak Passable Good Excellent

Co-operative Learning Assignment No. 1: A New Critical Approach.

A. As an Individual:

1. Read the passage carefully--you may wish to check your text of Hard Times for the passage that precedes this excerpt in Chapter Two.

2. Check any unfamiliar words in your dictionary: pay attention to what a given word would have meant in mid-Victorian England.

3. Highlight any key words and phrases, including figures of speech and allusions.

4. Attempt to formulate a statement of theme. Ask yourself, "What is the author's purpose or intention in this passage? How does the style contribute to the meaning?"

Questions on Hard Times, Ch. 2, "Murdering the Innocents."



(2) 1. In light of the title of this chapter (which constitutes a biblical allusion, hyperbole, and probably a pun), explain why Dickens has named Coketown's Scottish schoolmaster "M'Choakumchild."

(1) 2. Select one of the following categories, and explain in a sentence why Mr. M'Choakumchild as a character falls within it:

a. caricature

b. allegorical character

c. flat character.

(2) 3. Instead of describing him as a graduate of a teachers' college, Dickens speaks of the schoolmaster's having been "turned" out in a "factory." Why does he employ this industrial metaphor?

(Total = 8) 4. Explain each of the following references to the passage. If it is a figure of speech or poetic device, give the type. If possible, state how each reference serves to support Dickens's satire of English nineteenth- century public education.

(2) a. "like so many pianoforte legs":

(2) b. "put through...[his] paces":

(2) c. "head-breaking questions":

(2) d. "ends of his ten chilled fingers":

(2) e. "worked his stony way":

(2) f. "taken the bloom off the higher branches of" learning:

(2) g. "Water Sheds. . .(whatever they are)":

(4) 5. Dickens concludes this second chapter with an extended simile that is also an allusion to a children's book that was a childhood favourite of his.

a. Why does Dickens whimsically describe "Fancy" (Imagination) as a "robber"?

b. What impressions of Mr. MíChoakumchild does this passage create?

(10) 6. Formulate, with examples, a statement about Dickens's style in this excerpt.

Explain how style and authorial intention are related, and how various elements of his style tell us much about Dickens as a writer.

The Exercises

  1. A New Critical Approach
  2. The Textual-Biographical Approach
  3. The New Historicist Contextual Approach
  4. Cinematic Adaptation and Illustration
  5. Close-Reading a Passage
  6. Intertextuality: Hard Times and Charles Perrault "Bluebeard"

Web Charles Dickens Hard Times

Last modified 21 May 2003

Last modified 8 June 2007