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Last Updated on February 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1343

Sample Analytical Paper Topics

Topic # 1

In his representation of Coketown and what he calls the “fictions of Coketown,” the ideas and attitudes that make it what it is, Dickens is doing more than offer incidental description of a city in the north of England. Dickens means Coketown to stand for the negative aspects of industrial society as a whole.


I. Thesis Statement: The city Dickens calls Coketown is meant to portray the pollution, ugliness, monotony, and health-destroying aspects of the new social order in England brought about by the industrial revolution and the social attitudes and prejudices that sustain it.

II. The city is polluted, ugly, monotonous, and unhealthy
A. Pollution
1. Atmosphere thick with smoke and soot
2. Heaps of coal, litter, machinery
3. Dye from the cotton fabric is in the river and the canal is black and foul-smelling
B. Ugliness
1. The formless, unplanned nature of the city
2. The ostentation of Bounderby’s residence
3. The meanness of Stephen’s habitation and neighborhood
4. Neighborhoods half built up and half torn down by the railway
C. Monotony
1. The sameness of the work
2. The streets and buildings all built to be identical to one another
3. All public inscriptions painted alike
4. Sirens and bells each day
D. Health-destroying aspects of the city
1. Smoke-filled air
2. Smell of oil penetrating everywhere
3. Noise of the factories
4. Dangerous machinery
5. Abandoned coal pits

III. Ideas about society and prejudices circulated in Coketown by mill owners and men of business, political economists and Utilitarians, Parliamentary commissioners and schoolmasters
A. Workers are machines
1. They can be measured exactly for their horsepower
2. They need enjoy no significant leisure time
3. No care should be expended on how they might re¬create themselves
4. Workers’ feelings are never to be consulted
B. Human life holds no mysteries
1. Everything either is or should be the result of ra¬tion¬al calculation
2. Workers are told never to ask questions and to take everything on faith
3. Material interest underlies all human actions
C . Factory workers are basically lazy and want money and luxury without working for it
1. Bounderby’s favorite saying about turtle soup and gold spoons
2. The idea that real butter, fresh bread, sugar, and tea are extravagant luxuries when consumed by workers

IV. Conclusion: Dickens’ Coketown represents the negative aspects of the industrial revolution, the social order it created, and the ideas and attitudes that sustained it.

Topic # 2

Sissy Jupe’s influence as a character


I. Thesis Statement: Sissy Jupe has a strong influence on the events in the novel and on the emotional lives of those to whom she is attached.
II. Influences events
A. Gets rid of Harthouse
1. Goes to him in a self-appointed capacity as Louisa’s ambassador
2. Tells him he must never see her again
3. Is not put off by his fine, gentlemanly airs
4. Is sure of herself throughout the encounter
B. Helps discover Blackpool
1. Is first to spread word that Blackpool has fallen down Old Hell Shaft
C. Helps Gradgrind’s son escape from England
1. Has idea of contacting Mr. Sleary and enlisting his help in disguising and spiriting Tom away from his pursuers
2. Accompanies Louisa to the circus

III. Influence on characters’ emotional lives
A. In childhood, tries to comfort her despairing father
1. Reads to her father from his favorite stories
2. Rubs his body with the restoring “nine oils”
3. Is always cheerful around him
B. Gives Louisa hope
1. Does not condemn Louisa for the failure of her marriage
2. Remains steadfast in her loyalty and friendship to Louisa
C. Helps Gradgrind toward his redemption as a person capable of feelings
1. Shows a good example to him by caring for people in his household
2. Is always pleasant and diffuses gentleness at Stone Lodge
3. Makes him see how mistaken he was about her
D. Is a companion to Rachael
1. Helps Rachael cope with Stephens’ disappearance
2. Prevents Rachael from flinging herself down Old Hell Shaft
3. Is there for Rachael when the worst is confirmed

IV. Conclusion: Despite her humble origins, meekness, simplicity, and complete dependence on Gradgrind’s charity, Sissy turns out to be nothing less than the Gradgrind family’s savior.

Topic #3

The characters in Hard Times fall into two categories, with two exceptions.


I. Thesis Statement: The characters in Hard Times are either capable of unselfishly sympathizing with other people’s sufferings or they are selfish and calculating, with two exceptions—Gradgrind and Louisa.

II. Selfish characters incapable of sympathy
A. Bounderby
1. Does not care about the difficulties faced by the people who work for him, in particular Blackpool
2. Has no conception of his wife’s unhappiness
3. Shows remarkable tactlessness on the occasion of visiting Sissy’s father to tell him that Sissy can’t go to school any longer
B. Bitzer
1. Puts his own mother in a workhouse
2. Cannot be appealed to on the grounds of loyalty or feeling
3. Refuses to let Tom Gradgrind escape justice
C. Tom Gradgrind
1. Makes his sister marry a man she doesn’t love for his own convenience
2. Is nevertheless ungrateful toward his sister
3. Shows no remorse for hurting his family
III. Characters who are capable of unselfish sympathy
A. Sissy Jupe
1. Is Rachael’s companion and source of comfort when Blackpool disappears
2. Intervenes for Tom and helps him
3. Attends the sick and dying mother of Louisa
B. Rachael
1. Takes care of Stephen’s drunken wife, her old friend
2. Has pity and concern for Stephen
C. Mr. Sleary
1. Makes sure that Sissy really wants to go to Gradgrind’s
2. Knows the troubles and joys of all his employees
3. Shows sympathy for Sissy’s father
4. Shows sympathy for Sissy
IV. Louisa and Gradgrind are the exceptions
A. Gradgrind undergoes a change
1. For the first two-thirds of the novel he is unsympathetic, cold, and uncaring
2. Louisa reappears to expose his radical deficiency as a father
3. From that moment on he is a changed man struggling to find ways to act differently
B. Louisa alternates between being capable of sympathizing with others and being incapable of doing so
1. Like her father can be cold and haughty
2. But is devoted to her brother
3. Shows sympathy for Blackpool and goes to his lodgings to give him money
4. In the future, Dickens says that she will not be a mother, but she will devote herself to caring for others in humanitarian work

V. Conclusion: All characters in the novel are either capable of sympathy with others or incapable of sympathy, with two exceptions: Louisa has moments of both, but only Gradgrind is able to undergo a transformation.

Topic #4

Ridicule can be a powerful instrument in the hands of a skillful writer. Write an essay exploring the uses of ridicule in Hard Times.


I. Thesis Statement: In the novel Hard Times Dickens uses ridicule to entertain the reader and to puncture inflated language, attack ideas, and expose attitudes he dislikes.

II. Punctures inflated language
A. Mrs. Sparsit’s genteel speech
1. Calling her salary an “annual compliment”
2. Being unwilling to mention that Bitzer snores
3. Terms she uses for her employer
B. Slackbridge’s rhetoric
1. Speeches prolific with cliché and dead metaphors
2. His addressing everyone as his friend
3. Appeal to hatred and resentment

III. Attack ideas
A. Mr. Gradgrind’s theory of education
1. Force feeding children a steady diet of facts
2. Cultivating the intellect at the expense of the emotions
3. Forbidding any indulgence in fancy
4. Not allowing imaginative literature of any kind
B. Mr. Bounderby’s attitude toward his employees
1. Belief that they all want “to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon”
2. High-handed dismissal of Blackpool
3. Automatic suspicion of Blackpool
4. Belief that Coketown’s workers are the happiest who ever lived, and Coketown’s work the easiest
C. The “Harthouse Philosophy”
1. Life is boring
2. No opinion is worth more than another
3. Benevolence and social concern is meaningless
4. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be”

IV. Expose attitudes
A. Mr. Bounderby’s upstart attitudes
1. The made-up stories of his abandonment
2. His “braggart humility”
3. Boasting of his lack of manners
B. Mrs. Sparsit’s family pride
1. Her references to the Powlers and Lady Scadgers
2. Condescending air toward everyone despite the lowliness of her present station in life

V. Conclusion: Dickens uses ridicule relentlessly and effectively to mock a variety of his characters and their outlooks.

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Critical Evaluation