Compare and contrast the characters of Louisa Gradgrind and Sissy Jupe in Hard Times.

In Hard Times, Louisa Gradgrind and Sissy Jupe in many ways are polar opposites. Louisa represents utilitarianism, materialism, and rationalism. Sissy represent magic, imagination, and kindheartedness. However, buried deep underneath her hard exterior, Louisa longs for the warmth that Sissy's life exhibits.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sissy Jupe and Louisa Gradgrind are in many was opposites in this novel, but they do share some commonalities.

Sissy, the daughter of a circus clown, represents the world of imagination and magic that Mr. Gradgrind would like to eradicate. She leads with her heart rather than her head. For...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

example, she frustrates Gradgrind by saying that the underlying principle of science is “to do unto others as I would that they should do unto me.” Likewise, when confronted with the utilitarian notion of the greatest good for the greatest number, Sissy worries about the people who are suffering, no matter how few they are.

In contrast, Louisa fully imbibes her father's emphasis on materialism and rationalism. She sets aside sentiment in favor of hardheaded calculation. For instance, she marries the wealthy and older Bounderby, though she doesn't love him, because he is rich.

However, the two characters are alike in that underneath it all, Louisa yearns for the loving heart that Sissy possesses in abundance. Louisa knows there is something wrong with her barren existence. For instance, when Louisa decides to marry Bounderby, she and Sissy's eyes meet for a moment in a way that communicates that Louisa knows she is not following her heart, therefore perhaps making a mistake. At the end of the novel, too, Louisa takes delight in Sissy's children for themselves, not their utility value.

Sissy and Louisa pursue different paths—a heart path versus a head path—but on some level Louisa, cold as she is, is always aware that Sissy represents something important that is missing from her own life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Hard Times, what is the relationship between Mr Gradgrind and Louisa like in contrast to that of Signor Jupe and Sissy?

Let us remember that we never actally meet Sissy's father in this excellent novel, so we have to analyse their relationship by thinking about what others tell us about them. However, Childers at the circus is able to explain the intense emotional intimacy that was present in their relationship. Note what he says, talking about them:

"Because the two were one. Because they were never asunder. Because, up to this time, he seemed to dote upon her."

He was a man who was hurt more by the fact that his daughter knew of how during every performance he was "goosed" or hissed at than by the actual hissing itself, and loved her so much that he thought his only option was to leave her, now that he had provided for her in terms of giving her a schooling.

However, if we compare this loving relationship, even if it was somewhat misguided, with that of Louisa with her father, we see that the obvious emotional connection that existed between Sissy and her father is completely absent from Mr. Gradgrind's relationship with his daughter. Note the way that Mr. Gradgrind berates Louisa for taking her brother to see the circus:

"You! Thomas and you, to whom the circle of the sciences is open; Thomas and you, who may be said to be replete with facts; Thomas and you, who have been trained to mathematical excactness; Thomas and you, here!" cried Mr. Gradgrind. "In this degraded position! I am amazed."

Mr. Gradgrind only berates Louisa for any sign of anything but facts and reason in her life. When she tries to explain her reason for going, saying that she is "tired" and has been for a long time, she is promptly ignored and silenced, only to be scolded once more a little later. It is clear that openness and honesty is not a feature of this relationship.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on