Book I, Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9: Sissy’s Progress
Several months have passed since Sissy Jupe has moved into Stone Lodge. She has not done well at school; caring for Mrs. Gradgrind is hard, and she’s had “strong impulses” to run away. But the thought of her father stops her—she still has faith that he will return to her some day, and that he would prefer her to remain where she was. After all, it had been his idea to enroll her in Gradgrind’s school in the first place.
Mr. M’Choakumchild cannot give Gradgrind a favorable account of her performance. She is slow with figures; can grasp that the world is round but has no interest in its dimensions; cannot remember historical dates unless “something pitiful happened to be connected therewith”; bursts into tears when she is asked to do practical sums, and so on. Disappointed, Gradgrind nevertheless declares that Sissy must be “kept to it.”
One night, Sissy approaches Louisa and tearfully confides her school troubles. Louisa, intrigued by Sissy’s “wrong” answers, asks about her past life. Interrupted three times by an impatient Tom, who wants Louisa to come into the drawing room to meet Bounderby, Sissy tells the story of both her parents: about her mother, a dancer who died when Sissy was born, and her barely literate father who had somehow gotten the idea (perhaps from his wife, who was literate) that Sissy should be educated. Louisa asks if her father loved his wife, and why he left Sissy—only for her own good, insists Sissy, and because he had failed in his performances as a clown and felt himself to be a disgrace and no good to her.
Ever since this conversation, Louisa stops what she is doing when Sissy asks if there has been any word about her in the mail and looks “as earnestly as Sissy did” for the reply—which, however, is always the same: no.
The hail storm of fact that has broken over Sissy’s head every day for months has not altered her. She is still recognizably the same simple-hearted girl who was at a loss to define “horse” in M’Choakumchild’s classroom. Gradgrind’s project to “form” her anew, if it ever does succeed, has a long way to go.
Sissy’s poignant narrative of...
(The entire section is 584 words.)