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Discuss the Family Unit in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Hard Times” Essay Sample

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Discuss the Family Unit in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Hard Times” Essay Sample

When looking at Hard Times and To Kill a Mockingbird a central theme, which becomes more obvious throughout the two novels is the education of the respective children and how they are taught to move from childhood to adulthood. Throughout the two novels we encounter various family units with different backgrounds and attitudes to life.

The main family in Hard Times is the Gradgrinds and the main family in to Kill a Mockingbird are the Finches. There are many fundamental differences between the two families in the way the children are bought up, the attitudes, morals and views of the fathers and lastly the social class of the two families. These differences can be applied to other families in the novels. However there are also some similarities, which can be identified between the two families.

Within this essay I hope to discuss the similarities and differences between the families in the two novels.

Perhaps the main difference between the two main families is how and what the children are taught by their fathers. In the Gradgrind house fact and rationalism are focused on and fantasy and childlike thoughts are squashed out of the children.

‘Now I want facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing else but facts.

Facts alone are wanted in life, plant nothing else and, root up everything else

You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon facts:

Nothing else will ever be of any service to them.’ pg 1

Mr Gradgrind insists that his children should always stick to fact. His children lead monotonous lives untouched by pleasure. As a result of this their fantasies and feelings are dulled, and they become like machines. On the other hand Atticus Finch’s ideas and views on the teaching of children are very different to those of Mr Gradgrind’s. The main lessons Atticus feels are important to teach his children are those of sympathy and understanding.

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ pg 33

This quote is moral advice given by Atticus to Scout and proves very important for Scout as the novel progresses. Atticus unlike Gradgrind has the ability to relate to his children and he uses words and phrases that can be easily understood by Scout and Jem. This is illustrated by the previous quote. One obvious difference identified from the two books is the relationship between the fathers and their children. Mr Gradgrind although doubtless he cares for his children he doesn’t show his love towards them and is oblivious to any feelings that they might have. We see this in the conversation he has with Louisa when they discuss her marriage to Bounderby.

‘I would advice you to consider this question as you have been accustomed to’

This shows that Gradgrind has no idea of his daughter’s feelings. He is advising her to decide whether to marry Bounderby relying on fact rather than her feelings. In the Finch household we see that Atticus understands his children and values their opinion. Atticus gives his children the freedom to make their own decisions and choices. Atticus knows and understands what is good for his children although sometimes he is strict he does it for their own good. When Jem destroys Mrs Dubose’s flowers Atticus makes Jem go to read to her each day.

‘She wants me to come every afternoon after school and Saturdays and read to her out loud for two hours. Atticus, do I have to?’ pg 117

Atticus makes Jem do this because he knows it will benefit Jem and he cares for him, the reason Jem had to read to her was to show him what real courage was. Gradgrind raises Louisa and Tom according to his own philosophy and never allows them to engage in imaginative pursuits. As a result of the way the children were bought up Louisa becomes disconnected from her emotions and other people. Thomas becomes a hedonist with little regard for people or rules, this is due to the fact that all fantasy and childlike beliefs were discouraged. We can see the acceptance and the lovingness of the Finches by the fact that the black slave Calpurina is part of the family, in a time when there was much racial hatred.

Despite these fundamental differences between the two families similarities can also be found. Firstly these two families are similar due to the fact that both fathers think that what they are doing is best for their families and both fathers main goal is to educate their children. Mr Gradgrind and Atticus Finch both educate their children at home and seemingly look after the children single-handed as Thomas Gradgrinds wife is an invalid and Atticus’s wife is dead. Both men are men of distinction in the town were they live. Although Atticus isn’t well off, he is respected for his job, good nature and morals. Mr Gradgrind is a leading political man and very well off. In Hard Times Tom and Louisa have a close relationship similar to Scout and Jem in to Kill a Mockingbird. We see that Louisa and Tom are close through the quote ‘I am sick of my life loo. I hate it altogether, and I hate everybody. Except you’

Tom and Louisa look to each other for comfort and support. One result of the system that Gradgrind bought up his children by is the fact that Tom hates so easily and has never known love, however it did make Louisa and Tom very close. Jem and Scout are also close but not because they need support from each other but because they have been bought up to respect each other.

‘Don’t you cry now, Scout…. Don’t you worry.’

Jem looks after Scout and reassures her, Scout looks up to Jem and asks him questions and confines in him. Jem and Scout seem sometimes more like friends rather than brother and sister. Overall the main family unit in to Kill a Mockingbird and Hard Times are quite different. The Gradgrind family are much more disjointed and don’t function as a family. There is little love in the family, only between Tom and Louisa it is found. On the other hand the Finch family are very close and work well as a family unit.

As well as these two main families there are several other families that could be discussed. In to kill a mockingbird we find out about a number of different family units they include the Ewells, the Robinson’s, and the Cunningham’s. In Hard Times we encounter Stephen Blackpool, his wife and Rachel. Other family units include the circus people, Bounderby and Louisa and lastly the family Cecilia Jupe has at the end. The Cunningham’s and Stephen Blackpool’s family are similar families. They are lower class but honest and hard working. We see that the Cunningham’s are honest and hard working in the quote,

‘ I asked Atticus if Mr Cunningham would ever pay us ‘not in money,’

Atticus said ‘but before the year’s out I’ll have been paid. You watch.’ Pg 23

The Cunningham’s are poor and don’t have any money but they still pay Atticus back through food and other resources. Stephen Blackpool and Rachel, who is another hand in Mr Boundary’s factory and loves Stephen are very similar to the Cunningham’s.

‘He was a good power-loom weaver, and a man of perfect integrity.’

Stephen is good at what he does, modest and honourable. Rachel is caring and hard working we see this when she looks after Stephen’s ill wife. Stephen’s wife however is a drunk, devious woman who uses her husband’s good nature to manipulate him and fulfil her addiction. Stephen Blackpool’s wife seems similar to the Ewells in To Kill a Mockingbird; they do not work and use the fact that they are white to manipulate the black community. The Circus people are happy people, who support and look after each other. We can tell this from the phrase,

‘Yet there was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special inaptitude for any kind of sharp practice, and an untiring readiness to help and pity one another’ pg 31

This shows that they are simple and caring, they look out for each other like a big family. They are very good at their job and always ready to help and pity one another.

Mr Bounderby and Louisa have a very distant and unloving marriage; Louisa is incapable of love and Mr Bounderby too wrapped up in his self. Cecilia Jupe has a family at the very end of the novel Hard Times. She brings her family up concentrating on love and compassion rather than fact

‘But, happy Sissy’s happy children loving her; all children loving her;’ pg 267

Sissy’s children were bought up with childhood beliefs and fantasy. In some ways Sissy’s family can be compared to Atticus’s family as both were given freedom of thought. Also the Robinson’s in to Kill a Mockingbird are similar, they are a black family right at the bottom of social hierarchy, their father Tom is convicted of raping one of the Ewelles. The trial is at the centre of the novel. Despite this the family is close and a happy one.

In conclusion the two novels provide many different family units. From looking at the two novels we see links can be made between the families but also the families are different. It must be taken into account the time these books were written and set as well as where they were set. To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee in 1960 but the book is set in the mid 1930’s in Maycomb a small fictional isolated town in Alabama. At the time it was set there was much poverty and racial prejudice this effects how the family unit was portrayed. Hard Times was set in the fictional town of Coketown in the 1840’s written by Dickens in 1854. At around the time the book was set people’s lives were thrown into turmoil during the industrial revolution. Despite the differences in the time and place the books were set there are similarities found in comparison of the different family units. For example the education of the children, poor and honest families and deceitful lying families, and well off disjointed families, all of these types of families are found disregarding the time or place you look. The family unit plays a big part in both these very different novels.

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