Explore the ways in which Dickens makes Sissy Jupe such an admirable character in the novel.
‘Hard Times’, a novel written by Charles Dickens, was first published in 1854. It is set in fictional and industrial city of Coketown, and outlines the story of the people who live there. In Coketown, the people are clearly separated based on their financial situation - the rich, and the working class, also known as ‘hands’ in the novel. The monotonous way of life in Coketown is accompanied by a utilitarian style of education - where facts are encouraged and creativity is stunted. Contrary to this, Sissy Jupe, daughter of a circus performer, is full of colour and imagination. Despite her incongruous personality, Sissy ends up becoming the ‘heroine’ and saviour of the novel.
Dickens stated, ‘I have always strived in my writings to express venerations for the life and lessons of our Lord and savior.’ This is clearly radiated through Sissy’s presence and personality. The name ‘Cecilia’ alludes to St. Cecilia, who is a patron saint of art and music. She is normally associated with evoking emotion rather than logic, which helps to portray the uncanny relationship between Christianity and Sissy. Referring to Sissy as a saint not only creates an authoritative presence around her but also fuels the idea that she is a driving force of good, making her such an admirable character.
In addition, Sissy’s actions reflect that of Jesus Christ, as Jesus’s teachings revolve around love. Love plays a pivotal role in the Sissy Jupe plotline, as it is her contagious virtue and charity that breathes compassion into the hearts of the Gradgrinds. Throughout the book Dickens constantly relates her to Jesus. An example of this would when she kicked Harthouse out of Coketown. This correlates to the story where Jesus kicked out Jewish traders from a temple because their intention was not pure. Sissy Jupe said, ‘Mr. Harthouse... the only reparation that remains with you, is to leave here immediately and finally, I am quite sure that you can mitigate in no other way the wrong and harm you have done.’, which proves the fact that she is illustrated as a Prophetic figure as in the story of the ‘cleansing of the temple’ Jesus is portrayed as this authoritative and omniscient person that can sense the intentions of the Jewish traders and orders them to leave. This religious analogy over-exaggerates her admirability, especially to a largely Christian Victorian audience.
Following on from this, another way Dickens makes Sissy such an admirable character was the huge irony created by the fact that, in the end, she was the one educating Mr Gradgrind, which can also link to the omnibenevolent Prophetic figure of Sissy Jupe. The satirical effect of this is that it is really Sissy that is the person of logic, rather than Mr Gradgrind. This is conveyed in her answer to a statistical question, “I thought I couldn't know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it. It was not in the figures at all.” Portraying her intelligence and logical reasoning as her answer is astute and taps into the human/philosophical factors rather than meaningless numbers without any context. At the end of the novel, Sissy’s omnibenevolence shines through, while Gradgrinds logical teachings become irrational. Sissy teaches Mr Gradgrind that virtue and creativity are more important in education than facts.
Another way that Dickens makes Sissy such an admirable character is by portraying her as an extremely selfless person and healer. In Book One, Chapter 5, Sissy is found carrying a bottle of ‘nine oils’, which she was going to use to heal her father’s injuries and bruises. However, in the following chapter, we find out that Sissy’s father has lost his ability as a circus performer and abandoned Sissy in shame. Sissy is then taken in by Gradgrind. Despite leaving the circus, Sissy keeps the nine oils throughout the book, in hope that her father will come back one day. This alludes to Sissy’s positive attitude, which makes her a driving force of good. Sissy also helps Louisa recover after her incident with Harthouse, and teaches her how to love - ‘‘Whatever you want most, if I could be that. At all events, I would like to try to be as near it as I can. And however far off that may be, I will never tire of trying. Will you let me?’’. This quote from Book Three, Chapter One, tells us that Sissy will do anything to help Louisa and shows Sissy’s compassion and loyalty. Other examples of Sissy helping others include looking after Mrs Gradgrind and aiding Tom in his escape.
[Insert point.] ‘In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other.’ ‘‘Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!’ ‘O lay it here!’ cried Sissy. ‘Lay it here, my dear.’’ This quote from book three, chapter one, links to the fact that everyone thinks with their head, except Sissy, who thinks with her heart.
Dickens uses light in order to make Sissy such an admirable character. In Sissy’s first appearance in Book One, Chapter Two (‘Murdering the Innocents’), she is in the classroom and sitting in a ray of sunshine, while the rest of the children are not. This could represent the nature of play and imagination, as well as Sissy’s creativity and colour. In Book One, Chapter Six, Sissy uses a candlelight to help Bounderby and Gradgrind see their way to the Pegasus Arms. This could represent how she guides people throughout the book as a moral beacon. Later on in the book, Sissy guides Louisa in her recovery and as a beacon of hope and love.
In conclusion, Dickens uses a plethora of allusions and images with Sissy’s character portrayal to boost her admirability, making her the saintly ‘heroine’ of the book. The religious allusions and analogies were by far the most effective because, to the Victorian readers, Christianity was a large part of their lives; therefore, Sissy would have probably been seen as the embodiment of Christianity and, to a certain extent, a Prophetic figure. Sissy was seen as a healer and a virtuous character, as aforementioned earlier. Dickens also used satire, which was created by the irony of Sissy, the pupil, educating Mr Gradgrind, the teacher. This illustrates Sissy as a respectable and logical character, which is the antithesis of the narrator's portrayal of Mr Gradgrind, making her an admirable character.