How would you summarize the first four chapters of Hard Times by Charles Dickens?

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The first four chapters of Charles DickensHard Times are used not only to establish the characters of the novel, but also to give readers a sense of the rigid Utilitarian philosophies that Dickens skewers throughout the remainder of the text. Indeed, the first chapter opens with a glimpse into an educational system that emphasizes staunch Utilitarian values and actively kills students’ imaginations:

“Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else” (5).

The second chapter continues with this motif when Sissy Jupe’s description of a horse is disregarded in favor of a scientific definition. Thomas Gradgrind reinforces his restrictive mindset to the students:

“You are to be in all things regulated and governed... by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether” (9).

Chapter three is important because it introduces the Gradgrind family and illustrates how the patriarch’s ideology is destructive to his children’s spirits. A key scene within this chapter is when Louisa and her brother are caught enjoying “Sleary’s Horse-riding” show in secret. They indulge in the world of Fancy, and this infuriates their father.

Finally, in chapter four, Dickens introduces the detestable figure of Mr. Josiah Bounderby, a loathsome caricature of a wealthy businessman who boasts about being self-made. He espouses Social Darwinism, and Dickens uses this character to critique this harmful ideology.

Thus, the first four chapters set up the characters and themes of the remainder of Hard Times.   

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