In the nineteenth century England a woman’s place was in the home and they were not expected to have any sort of social life, professional life or education. Once married, a prototypical woman’s role would be the housewife, and the mother. They would be expected to be accomplished in activities such as playing the piano and needlework, purely for the entertainment and enjoyment of others. In Hard Times, Sissy Jupe embodies the Victorian ideal of femininity, being sensitive, compassionate and gentle. She is brought up with the warm and loving, but frowned upon, circus community, constantly indulging in fun, freedom and fancy.
However, Louisa’s upbringing and education have prevented her from developing such traits. Having learnt of Mr. Gradgrind’s perception on education and life, in chapter one, we then learn that he intends for all his children to be ‘models’. That ‘the first object with which they had an association was a large blackboard with a dry Ogre chalking ghastly white figures on it’. As she is continually brought up in this environment where all flights of fancy are discouraged, we can see that as a result, she finds it extremely hard to communicate and connect with people.
We are first introduced to Sissy, by Gradgrind, as ‘girl number twenty’ but the young girl is quick to point out that her name is Sissy, as her father calls her. This personal nick name, shortened from Cecilia, represents the loving relationship between Sissy and her father, and also the imagination in their lifestyle. Mr. Gradgrind replies by saying that ‘Sissy is not a name’, showing his firm objection to fancy and creativity. Dickens skillfully places Sissy ‘at the corner of a row on the sunny side’ caught in a sunbeam, emphasizing her innocence and warm nature.
She blushes on a few occasions, showing her to be open and unafraid of expressing emotions. Another example of Sissy’s creative upbringing is when she says ‘I am very fond of flowers’ and ‘they would be pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant’. Before she can continue, she is stopped by Mr. Gradgrind, who strongly opposes to anything of this kind. Despite Louisa’s confined childhood, we are introduced to her as she is ‘peeping with all her might’ to catch a glance of the circus.
Her father is ‘dumb with amazement’ and disgusted at this sight and scolds them, ‘in the name of wonder, idleness and folly! What do you do here? ‘ When Louisa replies boldly that she ‘wanted to see what it was like’, this shows us immediately that she is rebelling against her father and the lifestyle she is supposed to be leaving, suggesting her desire for excitement and pleasure in her life, and that her feelings have not been entirely suppressed, as her father would like to believe. She attempts to share her thoughts with him by saying ‘I was tired.
I have been tired for a long time’ but he is blind to his daughters feelings and simply refuses to listen to her. This shows her will to communicate with her father but he just blocks her out. Despite her stifling factual education, inside her ‘there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn’. This imagery of her ‘spark of imagination’ is touched upon throughout the novel, as she is often seen to be gazing into the fire and watching the ashes fall into the grate. This represents her suppressed passion and also shows her to be very reflective on her life and future.