Hard Times

Symbolism of Geometry in Dickens' Hard Times

In Charles Dickens’ literary satire, Hard Times, geometry--especially that of squares and circles--serves an important thematic function. The “man of hard facts,” Thomas Gradgrind, has a “square forefinger,” “square wall of a forehead,” and a “square coat, square legs, square shoulders.” (11) The very schoolroom in which Gradgrind teaches is described as “plain, bare, monotonous vault” (11)--this again evoking a square--on an inclined plane, with lines of children filling the room. In contrast, Sleary’s circus, where Sissy Jupe comes from, suggests an ongoing, perfect circle, that never changes. Even when the reader visits the carefree and lively circus a decade after Sissy first attends Gradgrind’s model school, the same clowns performing in the circus and Sissy herself are still present. Thus, Dickens uses the geometry of shapes to demonstrate the differences in lifestyle between the hard-edged, “square” Gradgrind, and the vivacious, “circular” Sissy.

In geometry, a circle is a figure with no starting points or ending points, and can be rotated any way and look the same. Sissy, who has grown up in the circus ring, represents imagination, independence, and, most important, endurance. At the start of Hard Times, the dark-eyed...

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