Book I, Chapters 1-2: Questions and Answers

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Study Questions
1. Chapter 1 is entitled “The One Thing Needful.” What is that one thing?

2. What does Gradgrind want to “plant” and what does he want to “root out” of his pupils?

3. To whom does Gradgrind say “Sissy is not a name…Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.”

4. What gesture does Bitzer make once he finishes his answer?

5. What direct comment does the narrator permit himself about the teacher M’Choakumchild?

6. The “government officer” is compared to what kind of professional athlete?

7. Instead of patterned china and wallpaper and flowery carpets, with what does the government officer urge the children to decorate their homes?

8. Which character is said to have been, with 140 others, “turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs”?

9. How does the girl Sissy’s physical appearance differ from the boy Bitzer’s?

10. Which “calling” (occupation) does Gradgrind not wish mentioned in his classroom?

1. “Facts” are the one thing needful, at least as far as Gradgrind and his associates are concerned. The phrase is meant to suggest the reductiveness of Gradgrind’s philosophy.

2. Again, “Facts” are what Gradgrind wishes to plant in the minds of the children; to be rooted out is any suggestion of “Fancy,” or imagination.

3. The remark is addressed to Cecilia (Sissy) Jupe.

4. Bitzer knuckles his forehead. This is a traditional lower class gesture, indicating deference to a social superior.

5. “Ah, rather overdone, M’Choakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!”

6. The government officer is compared to a boxer, “ready to fight all England.”

7. The government officer says that for purposes of decoration, the children must only use “combinations and modifications (in primary colors) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration.” These figures are, presumably, painted squares and triangles or other geometrical figures.

8. M’Choakumchild is so described. Dickens is saying that the schoolmaster’s own education has been a mechanical process, like the manufacture of pianoforte (a type of piano) legs. His extensive training has left him and all those subjected to it identical to one another, lacking any individual traits.

9. Sissy has dark hair and eyes, and her complexion glows in the light of the sun; Bitzer, by contrast, is pale all over and looks as though “if he were cut, he would bleed white.”

10. Gradgrind does not wish to hear anything about Sissy Jupe’s father’s occupation as a circus performer.

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Book I, Chapters 3-4: Questions and Answers