Compare and Contrast Dickens' treatment of two schoolmasters in David Copperfield and Hard Times

Both Hard Times and David Copperfield show to us the harsh severity of the Victorian school system and the teachers that were around at the time.

The two teachers I will be looking at are Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Creakle. The first thing we notice about both of them is their distinctly gruesome, unattractive surnames. When you think of the name Creakle, you come up with the word creak. The word creak is a noise that you would associate with a haunted house or ghost stories; this may be a premonition of what is to come of Mr.

Creakle’s character. From the name Gradgrind you can find the word grind. Grind is another word that describes a noise, you often talk of people grinding their teeth together and this could also be seen as him grinding the facts into his student’s heads.

Mr Creakle is a horrifying teacher. He loves to inflict pain on unsuspecting children, especially the vulnerable, for example the fat children.

However, Mr Creakle shows himself to be a bully as he only picks only the weak and refuses to pick on the most powerful and popular boy in the school, Steerforth. “But the greatest wonder that I heard of Mr Creakle was, there being one boy in the school on whom he never ventured to lay a hand, and that boy being J. Steerforth.”

This shows us that Mr. Creakle is not actually as powerful as he may think but only hits these children as a way of making himself feel more powerful.

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Mr Creakle is a sadist in some ways. You get the feeling that while he is torturing and tormenting these boys he is enjoying it, the fact that he has to make young boys feel bad by demeaning them to an animal by putting the dreaded placard on their back, makes us hate him which brings across that evil side to him. Copperfield tells us that he enjoys it on page 89 when in the text he says “I should think there never can have been a man who enjoyed his profession more than Mr. Creakle did. He had a delight in cutting at the boys, which was like the satisfaction of a craving appetite.” From this we can see that Mr .Creakle beat the boys under his control as much as normal people eat. This shows us just how harsh it is that he will beat a boy as if it something he has to do, just as eating is something humans have to do. You could also interpret as meaning that Copperfield thinks that Mr. Creakle feeds off the pain that he causes these poor children.

We do not hear of Mr Gradgrind hitting the children he teaches. This automatically makes us like him more than Mr Creakle because we feel that we are in a safer environment than him. Instead Gradgrind punishes the children by filling them full of facts “nothing but facts”. This is because he is of the belief that all children need in life to excel is their facts.

On page 80 David Copperfield has not actually met Mr. Creakle but he already suspects him of being awful. He has probably got this impression of him from the fact that Mr. Creakle is making him wear a placard on his back saying “Take care of him. He bites!” However, you could change the awful to spell awe-full. You can take from this the word awe which means ‘fear’ and this tells us just how scared Copperfield is of meeting Mr. Creakle. On page 81 Copperfield finally gets to meet Mr. Creakle in his house. He trembles in, mortified by what this man sat in front of him looks like that he does not notice anyone else in the room. We assume Mr. Creakle has been drinking a lot because he has got a bottle of something beside him and a glass.

The first thing that Copperfield hears from Mr. Creakle is him making a snide remark about the placard he has forced Copperfield bear for being the new boy. “Is this the boy to have his teeth filed?”

We then hear a description of Creakle which makes him seem even more evil. He has deep eyes set into his head which makes him more aggressive to us. He has large visible veins which are often a sign of age or are often exposed when people become angry, with Creakle it is probably both as he is going bald and has a comb over to hide the fact, this may show us that he is a proud man and does not want people to know that he is going thin on top. His large chin makes him seem big and threatening to us. Then we go on to hear that he speaks in a whisper which again shows his meanness because he may be talking like this so that he can scare the young Copperfield even more.

On page 83 Copperfield requests that he be allowed to take off his placard, not only does Creakle not allow this, but he finds it funny and outlandish that a boy ask a question of him. He bursts out of his chair, probably to scare Copperfield, and it does scare Copperfield who realises that his proposal would not be possible and goes back to his room quacking.

Unluckily for Creakle his plans to humiliate Copperfield fail when David meets Tommy Traddles who systematically introduces him to all the boys and tell them what a nice person he is. Copperfield meets J. Steerforth on page 84, who is the most dominant boy in the school. We can see this because he is not called in the text by his forename at all which shows him to be a figure of authority. You also see what a figure of authority he is when he agrees to look after Copperfield’s money and offers to sell him treats and other luxuries.

A difference between the two teachers is the fact that Mr. Gradgrind is actually trying to teach the children something, although what he is teaching them is plain and boring. We do not hear of Mr. Creakle teaching the boys anything but what a horrible man he is.

Mr Gradgrind’s teaching methods are so very dry and unimaginative. He shows no colour in what he teaches, he addresses his pupils as numbers and will only teach facts and not go over the border and teach what is not necessary.

On page 16 we see the effect that Gradgrind’s teaching has had on the children he teaches. None of them know of anything that is not fact, they don’t know about the ‘cow that swallowed Tom Thumb’ for example they only know about the cow that has four legs and eats grass. Seeing this we realise that Mr. Gradgrind is denying these children their childhood’s in a way by not letting them venture out and discover all of their childhood tales that most children would have heard.

It is not until Page 86 that we find out all of the evil that Mr. Creakle, a Tartar, has been causing all of the children who go to the school and just how evil he is. How he takes his wife’s money and will cane any boy he wants for the hell of it. We also

Find out that he had thrown his son out over a dispute about how Creakle treats his wife and this has led to his wife and daughter being sorrowful ever since. This second hand account of Creakle shows him to be even more sadistic and pathetic than we already know. What makes him pathetic is the fact that he will only pick on the vulnerable children and he will never venture to touch Steerforth.

On Page 89 when Mr. Creakle enters the dining hall everyone falls silent. This shows he has had a huge effect on the boys as most of them are too scared to carry on talking as he enters the room in fear of being whipped. We then hear Mr. Creakle’s threat to the boys of caning them so hard that not even rubbing will help the marks that he gives them if they are not fresh to class. He then proceeds to hit Copperfield at every time he asks a question of Copperfield; this brutality scares us and shows us what a tormentor he actually is.

Here the narrator feels the need to accentuate the cruelty of Creakle by exaggerating what he says for example “so great, was the viciousness”. This shows us and helps us to understand what a horrible man Mr. Creakle was.

In the extract from David Copperfield we see no

From the first line of Hard Times we find out that unlike Mr. Creakle, Mr. Gradgrind does believe in education, though it may be hard to believe from what he says. He wants to teach the boys facts as these are what are important and nothing else. He does not want the boys to have an opinion but a knowledge of the way things work, the same knowledge as everyone else.

Just like Creakle, Gradgrind’s monotonous classroom suits him. It in fact matches his face and what he looks like, his face has very simple, yet harsh features, with eyes that are deeply set into his head, and his mouth is wide, thin and hard set. Here Dickens finds it important to repeat the word emphasise. I think he does this not only to emphasise Gradgrind’s drab appearance but to emphasise his emphasis of Gradgrind.

The fact that Gradgrind’s appearance matches his classroom and everything about him is plain, simple and boring just shows us that all he cares about is numbers and figures. This could be seen as a relief because at least he wants to teach the boys something instead of just beating them like Mr. Creakle did.

Mr Gradgrind sees children as pitchers to be filled full of facts and details. This shows that he views children simply as objects not as human beings with opinions. We also see him treating a girl as an object on pages 10 and 11 when he calls a girl by a number. ‘Girl number twenty’, he does however, inquire as to what her name is, ‘Sissy Jupe, sir’ she replies. Mr Gradgrind snaps at her demanding she call herself Cecilia as Sissy is not a real name. We then see his style of teaching when he demands to know the facts of her father’s occupation. When she can’t define a horse Mr. Gradgrind calls her girl number twenty again, showing that his question of her name was not really necessary as he showed no intention of calling her by it. On page 12 we see a boy define a horse perfectly with just facts; he knows the Latin name, the amount of teeth and about horse’s hooves. When looking at this we feel sorry for the children under the control of Gradgrind because they are drilled with facts to recite on cue.

On page 14 girl number twenty expresses her opinion on flowers when she says “they would be pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy” As soon as she starts to express an opinion she is hounded by Mr Gradgrind who makes it clear that she does not need an opinion, only facts.

Towards the end of chapter three the children are sidetracked from their schoolwork by what Mr Gradgrind describes as “vagabonds”. He looks for children that he may know the name of, this shows that he has not taken any interest in these children that he only children he may know the name of he does not even know there is one. However, unluckily for him there is his own daughter Louisa, who he reprimands and takes away from the distraction saying what if her friends had seen her.

There is one major difference between these two men and that is that Mr. Gradgrind is actually trying to teach the children, whereas Mr Creakle is only submitting them to corporal punishment which they often don’t deserve. Another great difference is the picture that you form of the two men. When you think of Mr Creakle you picture a weak drunkard whose only point in life is to hurt poor, defenceless children who have no chance of defending themselves. When you think of Mr. Gradgrind then you think of a man who is determined to teach children facts and nothing but facts. You do not think of the harsh man that Mr. Creakle is. However, they are very similar in the way that they teach in the same environment as each other. They both have dull, lifeless classrooms and have very grey personalities. They are also both similar in the ways that they do not care about the feelings of the children. Mr Creakle focuses on breaking them down using pain, while Mr Gradgrind will forget names and verbally abuse children often telling them what they say is complete rubbish.

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Compare and Contrast Dickens' treatment of two schoolmasters in David Copperfield and Hard Times. (2018, Dec 19). Retrieved from

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