Fact and fancy represent radically different and largely irreconcilable worldviews in Hard Times. The former is represented by Mr. Gradgrind, the utilitarian pedant who insists on facts as being the only important thing for anyone to learn. His narrow, one-dimensional teaching philosophy is perfectly suited to an economic system—industrial capitalism—where people are only expected to know what has use-value in the new economy.
In Mr. Gradgrind’s system of learning, there is no place for fancy, or the imagination, as we might call it. Gradgrind teaches children, including his own, as if they have brains but no hearts. This has the effect of separating the children he teaches from their feelings, making it more difficult for them to engage with other people and with the world around them.
Despite Gradgrind’s best efforts, Sissy Jupe still manages to retain her imagination, thus making her a more rounded character than any member of the Gradgrind brood. She gets this from her father, who encouraged Sissy to dream from an early age and to use her fancy as a way of shaping and giving life to her emotions. Because of this, she has far greater empathy for others than Gradgrind’s emotionally-stunted children.
It is due to Sissy’s well-developed fancy and the emotional maturity that it brings that she’s effectively able to save the lives of Tom and Louisa Gradgrind, both of whom lack the imagination to be able to deal with the very serious problems in their lives. In the shape of Sissy Jupe, fancy has saved the day, redeeming Tom and Louisa from a life distorted by the suppression of emotion and a debilitating emphasis on fact.