Love versus Reality in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

August 8, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Hard Times, Charles Dickens uses the character of Signor Jupe to portray the clash between love and reality. Signor Jupe reveals his philosophy of love as a meaningful force through his actions at the start of the novel. By accepting responsiblity for the formative years of his daughter’s life, he positions her as a stark contrast to the children subjected to the Gradgrind system. Although he never appears in the novel as a physical presence, it is this very lack of presence that allows him to emphasize the theme of love versus reality. Signor Jupe exists in the novel only as an idea; yet he is a character who, without the use of dialogue or direct action, profoundly embodies one of the major themes of the book. The philosophy of love as a meaningful and moving force in human affairs is strengthened by his actions in the early chapters of the novel; specifically, when he leaves Sissy on her own. Sissy holds strongly to the idea that Signor Jupe left her in order to provide her with a better future – that he saw her witnessing his slow deterioration, and left to spare her that pain. She also obviously believes that he will return to her in the future. Gradgrind states “that if [Sissy] had been properly trained from an early age she would have remonstrated to herself on sound principles the baselessness of these fantastic hopes” (1). The contrast between these two philosophies is startling; they represent opposite ends of the spectrum. However, despite Sissy’s continued immersion in the Gradgrind system, she retains hope for her father’s return, and continues entertaining her own ideas of why he left. By leaving Sissy, Jupe provides a small opening in which to insert human emotion into the Gradgrind family and the Gradgrind system, pitting them against each other in a test to determine whether they possess stability and endurance, and whether or not the human soul can exist in their system without distortion. Finally, even Gradgrind himself is forced to succumb to the effects of human emotion, disavowing the truth in his own system, and switching roles with Sissy, learning from her what she learned from her father. It is apparent that without the influence and disappearance of Signor Jupe, these events would have unfolded in a different manner, removing Sissy from the lives of the Gradgrinds.Signor Jupe does not, at any point in the novel, appear as a flesh and blood character. Rather, he is a representation of a contrasting philosophy which is given a name and history in order to better explain how Sissy remains a stolid outpost of love against the assault of the Gradgrind system. In one scene, Louisa questions Sissy about her life with her father, and Sissy speaks of “wrong books” (2) that she read on occasion to her father. Obviously they were books of a fictional nature, books that never would have been allowed in the Gradgrind household. This is one instance where Signor Jupe is insinuated into the novel in order to offer an alternative to the world of facts and calculations espoused by Gradgrind. In small ways, the story that Sissy tells Louisa continues to oppose Gradgrind, even after she has finished speaking; for example, Louisa begins to hope as fervently as Sissy does for a letter from Signor Jupe, although her father regards this as extremely unlikely. Even though she has been trained to be skeptical about such things, the hope that the letter may come brings tears to Louisa’s eyes as well as Sissy’s – another triumph for the philosophy of love represented by Signor Jupe. Because he is not a character who engages in direct, spoken dialogue, Signor Jupe is accorded a kind of thought dialogue, which makes him a constant presence that renders him far more significant than some of the more major characters in the novel. Dickens does not directly refer to Signor Jupe’s location or well-being until the return of the dog Merrylegs at the very end of the book. Although he finally reveals that he will not be returning to Sissy, by this point that small fact hardly matters; his influence has succeeded in destroying the Gradgrind system, and in showing that love and emotional health are far more important than living in the confines of a calculated reality.

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