Hard Times Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

Hard Times book cover
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How do the names of the Characters in Hard Times reflect their roles/personalities? For example did Dickens use the last name Gradgrind for a reason? Is Sissy named Sissy Jupe for a reason? Whats the meaning behind Sparsit? etc etc.    

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janihash24 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Charles Dickens, like William Shakespeare, used character names to conjure up certain perceptions of the characters in the reader's (or audience member's ) mind. In the case of Hard Times, some of his satirical inventions are very easy to decipher; clearly, a teacher named "McChoakumchild" is not a paragon of progressive educational methods.

The use of "Gradgrind" as a surname continues Dickens' custom of portraying many in the merchant class as grasping and selfish, dedicated to "grinding down" workers without adequate compensation or any compassion. "Bounderby" of course brings to mind the classic epithet of "bounder," which means an unscrupulous cad.

"Sissy," on the other hand, should not be interpreted the way a modern reader might see it. As a nickname for "Cecelia," it's intended as a loving comment on this character, more evocative of, for example, a "sister of mercy."

"Sparsit," for a landlady who also provides board, brings to mind someone whose meals are likely very "sparse" and therefore not very nourishing or comforting.

Look for this kind of name usage in all Dickens' work, as interpreting it is part of the enjoyment of reading his books.

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dornjenkins | Student

Sometimes the names are allusions:

Rachael - Biblical reference - Rachael was the name of Jesus' grandmother - the name also denotes purity and gentility. Also refers to a story where she was unable to marry her beloved Jacob for seven years (Take your pick - no one can be sure of what Dickens thought, but it will be something like this)

Stephen - Similarly Biblical - was one of the early church leaders - Blackpool - a popular coastal holiday resort at the time ( and now) probably refers to the Fact v Imagination theme.

Sissy (Cecilia) - Biblical - a sainted virgin protected by angels from being ravaged. Jupe... not really sure, but sounds like dupe - to be cruelly tricked (probably to denote that she is an innocent victim of the industrial system)

Gradgrind - denotes hardness and grinding

Bounderby - A bounder is the Victorian term for a rogue

Sparsit - like Bitzer - the combination of harsh letters has an almost onomatopoeic sound - invokes the words - nasty, bitter.

Sleary - makes you want to say 'Sthleary' picking up on his unique speech patterns - denotes perhaps a blurring around the edges, which fits into his role to oppose 'the hard fact fellows' who are all edges, squres and precision


Hope it helps

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