Mr. Sleary's Representation of Circus People in Hard Times

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Mr. Sleary: The Symbol of Common People

      We meet these common people in Hard Times when Mr. Sleary appears. He is the owner and manager of travelling circus. His lisping manner of speaking creates a fun in the novel. He is very enthusiastic, kind hearted and affectionate man of Dickens’ philosophy of ‘fancy’. His role at the beginning and end of the story is striking for embodying an attitude to life entirely against the theory of Gradgrind and Bounderby. He leads his troupe of imaginative, kind-hearted horseriders with a beery nonchalance, which ultimately carries the day when his waltzing pony makes Tom able to escape from the grip of Bitzer. He points out and values the ray of softness and tenderness in Gradgrind from the beginning of the novel. He addresses Gradgrind as “Thquire”. This “Thquire” is often used by the “lower orders” to those whose, favor is needed, although it is strictly applied to landed country gentry not to industrialists. Mr. Sleary is strict with Bounderby who is, Mr. Sleary thinks, uncompromising and. can not be changed but he recommends Gradgrind to “make the betht of uth, not the wurth, and repeats it at the end of his last commonly long speech, in which he mainly refers to the excellent nature of dog. Gradgrind, who is of course going to be transformed and learning to wonder, still speaks like the old examiner of Book one Sowing. He says, “Their instinct is surprising!” But Sleary’s comic remarks on the incalculable ways of love without any selfishness incites no consciousness for the teaching they convey.

      For Dickens common people of society matter a lot. The workers are not gathering of laboring classes but people. Mr. Sleary contrary to Bounderby has spent his life in helping others and working with the circus troupe. Whenever he speaks, readers like to listen him. He has made his principles from experience and practice. Here he entirely differs from Gradgrind. His (Sleary’s) philosophy is not only more practical but more emphatic also. He says, “People must be amused, somehow; they can’t be always a-working.” His circus troupe living together happily sharing with each other their sorrows and smiles shows “the everyday virtues of any class of people in the world.” The richness of life is clearly perceptible among them. In their world emotion, imagination and unselfish love has its important place and thus they look quite delighted and jubilant.

The Circus People

      Circus people of Hard Times are linked with the principal plot through their member, Sissy Jupe. Sissy has entered the house of Gradgrind from the world of circus. Her entrance into Gradgrind’s ‘Stone Lodge’ connects the two worlds—the world of the theorists who are trying to make life based upon the theory of Tacts’; and the world of common people who represent the old style of living, giving primary emphasis on their hearts, emotions and sentiments. The Industrial Revolution has not spoilt them; instead it has enhanced the importance of their tenderness and kind-heartedness. When these two worlds are bridged through Sissy the story really begins. They can not proceed until Sissy comes among them. The story of industrial problem, the story of Stephen Blackpool—are the occasional offerings, being presented at appropriate moments and joined the main current of the exposure of the absolute failure of Gradgrind’s philosophy.

      The circus people represent art. For them, art means the mere amusement. However, though these harbingers of vitality are thought by high class people debased and degraded yet represent a bond between Coketown has with the life of uninterested accomplishment and the improvement and embellishment of human, experience. Edgar Johnson has expressed his opinion in the following lines: “The circus people are also vessels of those simple virtues of sympathy and helpfulness to others for which Mr. Gradgnnd’s philosophy had no use and Mr. Bounderby’s hardened heart no room.....There is no sentimentality in this portrayal of the circus stroller.” Dickens admits that “they were not very tidy in their private dress” and grants that they were sometimes rather disorderly in their private lives. He knows the dirt and squalor of their surroundings. He sees Sleary exactly as he is, with his flabby body, game eye, wheezing voice, and brandy-soaked state of never being quite sober and never quite drunk. But he knows that the qualities they exemplify are just as real as those in Mr. Gradgrind, and that they are quite as likely to be found in jugglers and acrobats as in bankers and businessman. Thus the two worlds face each other, the world of kindness and humanity, and the world of hardened facts devoid of all the tenderness, imagination, wonder and emotion.

Sleary’s Unselfish Love

      As the novel proceeds towards end, Sleary appears to save Tom Gradgrind from the clutches of Bitzer and this way help him to escape from the disastrous consequences of law. He is not greedy and refuses to accept any financial aid or reward although he agrees merrily to take a collar for the dog, a set of bells for the horse and little refreshment for his members of circus. “Brandy and water I alwayth take.” And secretly, to Mr. Gradgrind over his glass and makes a final revelation: “Sissy’s father is dead; his performing dog, worn out and almost blind, and there died.” Mr. Sleary means, though musingly that there is love in the world, it (world) is not full of only self interest but something very different. Love has its own ways of calculating and not calculating, and to give name to that is hard to achieve.

F.R. Leavis’ Views on Circus People

      F.R. Leavis’ states: “Representing human spontaneity, the circus-atheletes represent at the same time highly-developed skill and deftness of kinds that bring poise, pride and confident ease they are always buoyant, and, ballet-dancer-like, in training.” Their skills are not important for the Utilitarian calculus, but they show vital human motivation and they serve to vital human needs. The Horse-riding, is detested by Gradgrind and malignantly contempted by Bounderby, brings the workers of Coketown what they starved of. It brings to them not only entertainment but art. In giving symbolic value to traveling circus; Dickens shows an emphatic reaction to industrialism. Dr. Leavis’ further says: “Coketown, like Gradgrind and Bounderby, is real enough; but it can’t be contended that the Horse-riding is real in the same sense. There would have been some athletic skill and perhaps some bodily grace among the people of a Victorian traveling circus, but surely so much squalor, grossness and vulgarity that we must find Dickens’ symbolism sentimentally false? And there was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special inaptitude for any kind of sharp practice’—that surely is going ludicrously too far? If Dickens, intent on an emotional effect, or drunk with moral enthusiasm, had been deceiving himself—about the nature of actuality he would then indeed have been guilty of sentimental falsity and the adverse criticism would have held. But the Horse-riding present no such case. The virtues and qualities that Dickens prizes do indeed exist, and it is necessary for his critique of Utilitarianism and industrialism, and for his creative purpose, to evoke them vividly”.


      The indispensable importance of Mr. Sleary and circus is apparent. We find circus at the beginning and towards the end. From here Sissy Jupe comes to help Gradgrind family; and Tom the debased and humiliated product of a political-economical education turns back to it to make him rescue. Dr. Leavis says, most significantly about the scene where Sleary indicates the moral of the book: “Reading it there we have to stand off and reflect at a distance to recognize potentialities that might have been realized elsewhere as Dickensian sentimentality There is nothing sentimental in the actual fact.”

      We find, Mr. Sleary as a wise person. F.R. Leavis accurately says of “the solemn moral of the whole fable, put with the rightness of genius in Mr. Sleary’s asthmatic mouth.” Sleary is like the fool of Shakespeare’s several plays like King Lear, Twelfth Night etc. He is quite wise and imparts wisdom to other. At the end Sleary says: “Thquire, thake handfh, firtht and latht Don’t be croth with uth poor vagbondth. People mutht be amuthed. They can’t be alwaybh a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they ain’t made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, make the betht of uth; not the wortht”.

      Thus we see that not only richness of life and unselfish love is imparted by Mr. Sleary in Hard Times but he also represents the moral lesson of the novel.

University Questions

The circus people in Hard Times express vital human impulse. Elaborate the statement with references to the novel.
Comment on the following statement with references to Hard Times: “The circus people led by Mr. Sleary represent richness of life and unselfish love.”

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