Hard Times | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Hard Times | Book 1, Chapter 6 : Sowing (Sleary's Horsemanship) | Summary

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Summary

The circus is lodging at a public house called the Pegasus's Arms. Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind meet with two performers, Mr. E.W.B. Childers and Master Kidderminster, while Sissy searches for her father. The performers, especially Kidderminster, are annoyed by Mr. Bounderby's bluster. Mr. Childers explains that Mr. Jupe's recent performances have gone badly. In fact, he and his dog, Merrylegs, have left the circus and Sissy behind. Mr. Childers defends Mr. Jupe, saying he loves Sissy and wants her to be educated so she can have a better life and, therefore, has left her for her own good.

Mr. Gradgrind consults the circus owner, Mr. Sleary, about what is best for Sissy, and is very concerned to learn her father has gone. Mr. Sleary offers to apprentice her to one of the riders, assuring her they will care for her as one of their own. Mr. Gradgrind offers to take Sissy into his home to care for his wife and to be educated, on the condition she never speak of the circus again. Sissy believes her father wants her to go to school, so she decides to go with Mr. Gradgrind and bids a tearful farewell to the whole attentive and caring circus.

Analysis

The name of the public house reflects two important features of the circus company. Pegasus, a winged horse in Greek mythology, is a creature born of imagination and fancy; nonexistent in reality, it is the kind of creature of which Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby are disposed to disapprove. However, the public house could have been named for any mythical creature and attained the same effect. Yet for a circus troupe that makes its name and living from its skill and prowess with horse riding, the sign of Pegasus elevates the troupe's work to legendary status, glorifying the horses the men and women ride and perform with. The names of the two performers, Kidderminster and Childers, contain references to childhood, associating them with innocence, goodness, and a childlike imagination.

While Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind look down on the performers, the performers look down on Mr. Bounderby, who as usual is full of himself. Master Kidderminster is openly dismissive of Mr. Bounderby's bluster. Mr. Childers is subtler but also more vicious in his dismissal of Mr. Bounderby; he is not astonished to hear Mr. Bounderby's mother left him, implying he is so obnoxious even his own mother couldn't bear to be around him.

Mr. Sleary and the others reveal the second feature of the company—the paradox of familial love—when they defend Mr. Jupe's decision to leave his daughter. Mr. Bounderby judges Mr. Jupe's decision harshly, but he has no children. Mr. Gradgrind, on the other hand, does have children and offers no direct comment or judgment on Mr. Jupe's course of action. He likely disapproves, but he also may understand the parental drive to sacrifice for a child's interests and admire Mr. Jupe's high regard for education, which might be equal to his own. He is moved enough by Mr. Jupe's desire that he offers her a place in his own home and school, even though he originally had intended to encourage her to leave.

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