Summary and Analysis
Book One: Chapters 5-6
In these two chapters, one gets a picture of Coketown and learns that Sissy Jupe's father has abandoned her. Chapter 5, "The Keynote," describes Coketown as a town of red brick sacred to Fact. It is a town in which all of the buildings are so much alike that one cannot distinguish the jail from the infirmary without reading the names of the two inscribed above the doors. It is a town blackened by the "serpent-like" smoke that billows endlessly into the air from the factory chimneys and settles in the lungs of the workers, a town with a black canal and a river that runs purple with industrial waste, a town of eighteen denominations housed in pious warehouses of red brick. Who belongs to these eighteen denominations is the mystery. The laboring classes do not belong, even though there are always petitions to the House of Commons for acts of Parliament to make the laboring classes religious by force. A Tee-total Society has tabular statements showing that people drink; chemists and druggists have tabular statements showing that those who do not drink take opium. Also in this chapter is an analogy between the conformity of the town and the conformity of the Gradgrinds and the other products of Fact.
Bounderby and Gradgrind, on their way to Pod's End, a shabby section of the town, to inform Sissy's father that he must remove her from school before she corrupts the other children, encounter Sissy being chased by Bitzer, the ideal student. They send Bitzer on his way and go with Sissy to see her father. Having gone for "nine oils" for her father's "hurts," Sissy tells the two men about her father's profession as a clown and about Merrylegs, his performing dog. Bounderby, in his usual manner, comments with a metallic laugh, "Merrylegs and nine oils. Pretty well this, for a self-made man."
Chapter 6, entitled "Sleary's Horsemanship," portrays the circus folk, who are in direct contrast to Bounderby and Gradgrind. In this chapter, one learns that Sissy's father, thinking that others will take better care of her than he can, has deserted her. In the Pegasus's Arms, the hotel of the circus people, Bounderby and Gradgrind exchange philosophy with Mr. Sleary, a stout, flabby man, the proprietor of the circus, and with Mr. E. W. B. Childers, and Kidderminster, performers in the circus. The ensuing conversation between the schools of Fact and Fancy reveals that there is little understanding between the two. When Bounderby states that the circus people do not know the value of time and that he has raised himself above such people, Kidderminster replies that Bounderby should lower himself. Sleary's philosophy is that of Dickens, "Make the betht of uth, not the wurtht." (Make the best of it [life], not the worst.)
When Sissy is convinced that her father has deserted her, she accepts Gradgrind's invitation to become a member of his household. Gradgrind's offer is motivated by Fact. Louisa will see what vulgar curiosity will lead to. Sleary encourages Sissy to accept the offer of the "Squire" (the name he has given Gradgrind). He says that she is too old to apprentice; however, he contends that there must be people in the world dedicated to amusing others.