Education in the novel

Dickens’ clever and amusing use of comments in parenthesis are key to portraying his true feelings about the forms of education in the novel. The children are told that they must use ‘combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures’. By including the bracketed section of this sentence Dickens is able to highlight the lack of imagination that these teachers have. He mocks them and suggests that they would never use any colours but the three primary ones because other ones involve mixing and imagination in order to be created.

M’Choakumchild qualified as a teacher in the ‘same factory’ and on the ‘same principles’ as ‘one hundred and forty other schoolmasters’. Dickens compares him them to pianoforte legs, which suggest that he is simply a manufactured product. M’Choakumchild appears to be very informed in a number of subjects including ‘etymology, syntax and prosody’, all of which are impressive including his knowledge of the ‘water sheds of all the world’, but of no use when teaching young children. His ‘chilled fingers’ emphasise his lack of emotion and without directly saying it, Dickens makes it clear that M’Choakumchild is unqualified to teach young children.

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Dickens claims that if M’Choakumchild ‘had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more’. This clever use of a direct authorial comment enables Dickens to bluntly state how he feels about M’Choakumchild’s irrelevant knowledge. This frank statement allows the reader an insight into Dickens’ thoughts. Dickens compares Gradgrind’s way of teaching to the way in which Morgiana handled the forty thieves in the book. This suggests that Dickens believes Gradgrind will eventually kill the children by pouring facts into them.

Throughout Dickens questions Gradgrind’s method of suppressing the children’s imagination. He wonders whether even if Gradgrind can ‘fill’ each child brim full with facts, he be able to ‘kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within’ the children or only ‘maim him and distort him’. The sheer importance of this statement can be understood by the biblical tone employed. The use of a rhetorical question warns that imagination cannot be destroyed and indicates that the rest of the novel is based on the consequences of Gradgrind’s need to abolish any means of thought or imagination.

Throughout the beginning of his novel, Dickens gives few direct indications of his views on the form of education depicted, however through the use of satire, he is able to suggest how he feels about certain aspects of Gradgrind’s educational system. It becomes very apparent that he is not at all in favour of it and that he disagrees with Gradgrind’s ridiculous hatred of ‘Fancy’ and imagination. Towards the end of the second chapter Dickens expresses these views much more openly by writing comments in parenthesis and with the use of direct authorial comments.

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