“Give me your definition of a horse,” (Pg 3) says the eminently practical Mr. Thomas Gradgrind of Charles Dickens’ unforgettable novel, Hard Times. Can anybody really define a horse? Cecilia Jupe, also known as Sissy, was unable to answer this question because she was, well, normal. Bitzer, the boy brought up in Coketown, the city of facts, answered, “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive…” (Pg. 4). Clearly the contrast between Sissy and Bitzer can be seen. The differences between Bitzer and Sissy are shown not only in their definitions of a horse, but also in their physical appearance, personality, background, and the different philosophies that they each represent: fact and fancy.
From the very beginning, Dickens had made it clear to the reader that Sissy represents fancy and Bitzer represents facts. He uses the two characters in many ways to portray the differences between fact and fancy. One way of doing this is describing Sissy and Bitzer’s physical appearance. Dickens has a tendency to make his characters’ physical appearance reflect their personalities. This is true for both Sissy and Bitzer. Sissy is described as vibrant and full of dark, rich colors. She glows with passion and kindness. Bitzer, on the other hand, is described as a very pale boy. He seems cold and emotionless, with light colored eyes and light colored hair. While Sissy seems to have an aura of goodness, Bitzer does not. He is emotionless. Even in the setting of a classroom, the differences in appearance between Sissy and Bitzer are apparent, for “Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end.” Sissy seemed to “receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun when it shone upon her,” while the same sunbeam “seem to draw out of him (Bitzer) what little colour he ever possessed” (Pg. 3-4). The differences between Sissy and Bitzer are so evident that one must have been able to tell which philosophies that they each stand for.
Throughout the course of the novel, Sissy and Bitzer’s actions help to describe what kind of personality they each have, which are also opposites of each other. Sissy is very emotional and never thinks only of herself. For example, when Sissy’s father abandons her, she does not cry for herself. Instead, she says, between sobs, “O my dear father, my good kind father, where are you gone? You are gone to try to do me some good, I know! You are gone away for my sake, I am sure! And how miserable and helpless you will be without me, poor, poor Father, until you come back!” (Pg. 35) and cries for her father rather than feel sorry for herself. She is so caring and compassionate that she always thinks the best of things. This is probably why Jane, the younger sister of Louisa and Tom, grew up much happier than her older siblings. She had been raised by the affectionate Sissy and treated like a human, unlike her older siblings, who had been raised more like robots by their father, Mr. Gradgrind. Bitzer, however, is completely different. He did not receive the love and the care the Sissy did. Because of this, it seems as though Bitzer has no heart (but of course he does, physically). He cares only for himself, even at the expense of others. Near the end of the novel, when Tom Gradgrind, Jr. (also known as the whelp) tries to escape from Coketown, who, other than Bitzer, is there to turn him in? In his own words, he says, “I am going to take young Mr. Tom back to Coketown in order to deliver him over to Mr. Bounderby,” for “I have no doubt whatever that Mr. Bounderby will then promote me to young Mr. Tom’s situation (position)” (Pg 267). Basically, he wished to pursue Tom, “for it will be a rise to me, and will do me good” (Pg 267). Bitzer has no heart and therefore cannot see that helping another human being is logical. He was raised under a utilitarian, or severely practical, form of education, which is the assumption that humans act only for their own self-interest. An interesting contribution to Bitzer’s personality is where he was taught. Bitzer’s education was in the school of Mr. McChoakumchild, whose name has a disturbing connotation, as if his job was to choke the imagination out of the children. Bitzer had been raised and treated like a robot, and, as a result, he has the personality of a robot. Sissy and Bitzer’s personalities contribute to the two philosophies that Dickens is trying to point out.
The main reason why Sissy and Bitzer act and think the way they do is because of how and where they were raised. Bitzer was raised in the labor-filled Coketown and had a utilitarian education, in which facts were stressed and nothing else in the world mattered except for one’s self-interest. The children in the school where both Sissy and Bitzer attended was just a “plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim” (Pg. 2). Bitzer’s education consisted of facts, facts, and more facts. Nothing else was important and nothing else will ever be of any more importance than facts. This way of growing up instilled in Bitzer the unpleasantness that expresses when he grows older. Sissy, however, was brought up in a circus. Her father had been a horse trainer and doctored horses. The circus represents the one thing that the “school of facts” resents: fancy. As Mr. McChoakumchild said, “Aye, aye, aye! But you mustn’t fancy. That’s it! You are never to fancy” (Pg. 6). The ability to wonder, which was strictly forbidden in the Gradgrind household, was encouraged at the circus. It was how circus performers earned their living. Although Sissy was sent to live with Gradgrind, she was immune to his teachings of facts, facts, and more facts because she was raised in a circus. She had become kind of immune to that sort of teaching. Sissy was able to grow up happy and caring, full of imagination. This just goes to show that a child’s surroundings will influence the way the kind of person they will become when they grow up. In this case, Dickens shows a child growing up with laughter and happiness and another child growing up with obedience and structure. It represents, once again, the two philosophies fact and fancy.
As anyone can tell when they read Hard Time, the characters Sissy and Bitzer are not in the story just to make the novel more interesting. They are symbols for something greater: fact and fancy. Sissy represents the human nature because she is human. She was brought up and treated like a human so she has feelings like a human. Her vibrant colors, compassion, and friends from the circus help to enforce that kind of philosophy: fancy and imagination of the free will. Because Sissy had been raised like a human, she was able to do something that the kids from Coketown were forbidden to do: wonder. They could not use their imaginations, only what is proven is logical to them. Bitzer, however, represents the philosophy of facts and only facts. His actions, appearance, and training at Mr. McChoakumchild’s school show what a person becomes when they follow that philosophy. He had become cold and hard, with not a single thought for anyone but his self-interest. Dickens uses these two characters to show the differences between the two philosophies and the consequences that following these philosophies may have.
Through Bitzer and Sissy, the two different philosophies that each represent can be clearly seen: fact versus fancy. Bitzer has become a selfish person who does not care for anyone but himself. Sissy was the emotional center of the book because she was, practically, the only one that had real emotions from the very beginning. It can be distinguished which philosophy Dickens agrees with: fancy. He makes fact seem dull and dead, while making fancy seem colorful and full of life. Sissy is the kind of person that everyone would love, and Bitzer is someone that everybody would hate. Unmistakably, it is easy to tell which philosophy one would prefer. Maybe Bitzer ought to take a couple of lessons from Sissy.