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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 unhealthyA. Pollution1. Atmosphere thick with smoke and soot2. Heaps of coal, litter, machinery3. Dye from the cotton fabric is in the river and the canal is black and foul-smellingB. Ugliness1. The formless, unplanned nature of the city2. The ostentation of Bounderby’s residence3. The meanness of Stephen’s habitation and neighborhood4. Neighborhoods half built up and half torn down by the railwayC. Monotony1. The sameness of the work2. The streets and buildings all built to be identical to one another3. All public inscriptions painted alike4. Sirens and bells each dayD. Health-destroying aspects of the city1. Smoke-filled air2. Smell of oil penetrating everywhere3. Noise of the factories4. Dangerous machinery5. 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 schoolmastersA. Workers are machines1. They can be measured exactly for their horsepower2. They need enjoy no significant leisure time3. No care should be expended on how they might re¬create themselves4. Workers’ feelings are never to be consultedB. Human life holds no mysteries1. Everything either is or should be the result of ra¬tion¬al calculation2. Workers are told never to ask questions and to take everything on faith3. Material interest underlies all human actionsC . Factory workers are basically lazy and want money and luxury without working for it1. Bounderby’s favorite saying about turtle soup and gold spoons2. 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 eventsA. Gets rid of Harthouse1. Goes to him in a self-appointed capacity as Louisa’s ambassador2. Tells him he must never see her again3. Is not put off by his fine, gentlemanly airs4. Is sure of herself throughout the encounterB. Helps discover Blackpool1. Is first to spread word that Blackpool has fallen down Old Hell ShaftC. Helps Gradgrind’s son escape from England1. Has idea of contacting Mr. Sleary and enlisting his help in disguising and spiriting Tom away from his pursuers2. Accompanies Louisa to the circus

III. Influence on characters’ emotional livesA. In childhood, tries to comfort her despairing father1. Reads to her father from his favorite stories2. Rubs his body with the restoring “nine oils”3. Is always cheerful around himB. Gives Louisa hope 1. Does not condemn Louisa for the failure...

(This entire section contains 1343 words.)

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of her marriage2. Remains steadfast in her loyalty and friendship to LouisaC. Helps Gradgrind toward his redemption as a person capable of feelings1. Shows a good example to him by caring for people in his household2. Is always pleasant and diffuses gentleness at Stone Lodge3. Makes him see how mistaken he was about herD. Is a companion to Rachael1. Helps Rachael cope with Stephens’ disappearance2. Prevents Rachael from flinging herself down Old Hell Shaft3. 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 sympathyA. Bounderby1. Does not care about the difficulties faced by the people who work for him, in particular Blackpool2. Has no conception of his wife’s unhappiness3. Shows remarkable tactlessness on the occasion of visiting Sissy’s father to tell him that Sissy can’t go to school any longerB. Bitzer1. Puts his own mother in a workhouse2. Cannot be appealed to on the grounds of loyalty or feeling3. Refuses to let Tom Gradgrind escape justiceC. Tom Gradgrind1. Makes his sister marry a man she doesn’t love for his own convenience2. Is nevertheless ungrateful toward his sister3. Shows no remorse for hurting his familyIII. Characters who are capable of unselfish sympathyA. Sissy Jupe1. Is Rachael’s companion and source of comfort when Blackpool disappears2. Intervenes for Tom and helps him3. Attends the sick and dying mother of LouisaB. Rachael1. Takes care of Stephen’s drunken wife, her old friend2. Has pity and concern for StephenC. Mr. Sleary1. Makes sure that Sissy really wants to go to Gradgrind’s2. Knows the troubles and joys of all his employees3. Shows sympathy for Sissy’s father4. Shows sympathy for SissyIV. Louisa and Gradgrind are the exceptionsA. Gradgrind undergoes a change1. For the first two-thirds of the novel he is unsympathetic, cold, and uncaring2. Louisa reappears to expose his radical deficiency as a father3. From that moment on he is a changed man struggling to find ways to act differentlyB. Louisa alternates between being capable of sympathizing with others and being incapable of doing so1. Like her father can be cold and haughty2. But is devoted to her brother3. Shows sympathy for Blackpool and goes to his lodgings to give him money4. 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 languageA. Mrs. Sparsit’s genteel speech1. Calling her salary an “annual compliment”2. Being unwilling to mention that Bitzer snores3. Terms she uses for her employerB. Slackbridge’s rhetoric1. Speeches prolific with cliché and dead metaphors2. His addressing everyone as his friend3. Appeal to hatred and resentment

III. Attack ideasA. Mr. Gradgrind’s theory of education1. Force feeding children a steady diet of facts2. Cultivating the intellect at the expense of the emotions3. Forbidding any indulgence in fancy4. Not allowing imaginative literature of any kindB. Mr. Bounderby’s attitude toward his employees1. 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 Blackpool3. Automatic suspicion of Blackpool4. Belief that Coketown’s workers are the happiest who ever lived, and Coketown’s work the easiestC. The “Harthouse Philosophy”1. Life is boring2. No opinion is worth more than another3. Benevolence and social concern is meaningless4. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be”

IV. Expose attitudesA. Mr. Bounderby’s upstart attitudes1. The made-up stories of his abandonment2. His “braggart humility”3. Boasting of his lack of mannersB. Mrs. Sparsit’s family pride1. Her references to the Powlers and Lady Scadgers2. 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.


Critical Evaluation