Book 1, Chapter 2 Summary

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Last Updated January 12, 2023.

Thomas Gradgrind is the speaker, and he is a man devoted to reason and facts and calculation. Now he calls upon girl number twenty, who is Sissy Jupe, although Mr. Gradgrind insists that she be called “Cecilia.” He asks Sissy who her father is, and she responds that he is one of the horse riders, circus entertainers. Mr. Gradgrind will not accept that and labels Mr. Jupe as a horsebreaker, farrier, and veterinarian. Then he tells Sissy to define “horse.” She cannot, and the boy Bitzer provides an exact scientific definition. Bitzer is a pale boy who contrasts with Sissy’s dark hair and eyes. Sissy blushes deeply.

The third gentleman in the room is a powerful man, a fighter who is determined to get the best of anyone in anything. He asks the students if they should ever use wallpaper with horses on it, and they soon learn that this is not acceptable because it does not correspond with fact. Neither does flowered carpet, although Sissy says that she would like such. When Sissy begins to say that she would fancy such representations of flowers, the men immediately insist that fancy is never appropriate, only facts.

The schoolmaster’s name is Mr. M’Choakumchild, and he is filled to the brim with facts of all kinds, which he is ready to pour into the children. The narrator comments, however, that “If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!”

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