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Stephen Blackpool, on the other hand could be considered to be from the other side of the tracks. He was a poor man and worked in Bounderby's factory as a weaver. The language that Dickens' uses to describe the world that Blackpool is from is quite depressing. He tells us that the Gradgrinds live at Stone Lodge. This name itself conjures up and image of a mini castle surrounded by lush, green grass. He describes Stephen Blackpool's environment as a place 'where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in' and 'the whole an unnatural family, shouldering and trampling and pressing one another to death'. He even lets us know that Stephen looks much older than his forty years because of the life and environment he is from. Poor Stephen loses his job for standing up for his coworkers and also left Coketown in order to find work elsewhere. When Bounderby's Bank is robbed, Stephen is seen by him as the likely suspect because he is poor, was fired and has no money. We know that these factors do not make Stephen a criminal.
Tom Gradgrind, the son of Thomas Gradgrind is the perfect example of someone who was apparently raised in a proper manner, but has not lived up to his upbringing. Young Tom is careless with other people's money as he does not have any of his own. He persuades Louisa to marry the older Bounderby in order to secure a decent job at the Bank to finance his philandering ways. We know that Louisa does this as she does not want to disappoint neither her father nor Tom. Louisa even gives Tom money in addition to his salary which isn't enough for we learn that it is he who robbed the Bank.
The story ends on an ironic note because according to the eldest Gradgrind, life is about the facts. The fact was that he knew his son robbed the Bank and therefore, he should have been punished for his deviant behavior. Instead, Thomas Gradgrind tries to hide his son among the local circus performers until he can find a way to get him out of the country. He is not at this point led by the facts. He is led by his heart and for the love of his child, so he contradicts himself. Bitzer is a child that was taught by Gradgrind. He comes to the circus to capture the younger Gradgrind and bring him in to Bounderby. He does this because he believes he will be given young Tom's job and that would be in his best interest. He ignores the bribe for money that Mr. Gradgrind promises and reminds his former teacher that 'the whole social system is a question of self-interest'. This is something Gradgrind taught his pupils and it has come back to haunt him.
Although this novel centers on the different social classes, there is an underlying message that Dickens wants the reader to grasp. There is a certain way that the upper class in this novel speaks and it is easily understood. Those considered lower class speak differently and at times it is extremely difficult to understand what some of the characters are saying. The reader could tell by the language spoken by the Gradgrinds that they were educated and the way Stephen Blackpool spoke was quite annoying. Given this, it was easy to form opinions of the characters. The Gradgrinds seemed as if they could do no wrong and after a while, we believe it quite possible that Stephen Blackpool is the person that robbed the Bank. However, through a series of twists and turns we see that the Gradgrinds are the ones who are dysfunctional with Louisa coming close to taking a lover while married and young Thomas becoming a thief. It is Stephen who is nobler than all and it's not because of his education or his bank account. It is because of the kindness of his heart. Through pages and pages of writing, Dickens shows the reader that you can't really judge a book by its cover.
Dickens, Charles. (1987). Hard times for these times. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
http://teachers.ewrsd.k12.nj.us/savedoff/humanities_9/victorian/characteristics_of_victorian_era.htm (Accessed on June 30, 2010).
http://www.victoriaspast.com/FrontPorch/victorianera.htm (Accessed on June 30, 2010).[continue]
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