A man of realities
This passage deals with M'Choakumchild, where Mr Gradgrind is the teacher. At first the reader is provided a description of Mr Gradgrind by himself, like he was talking to himself about how to self-introduce, he defines himself a man of realities, facts and calculations, indeed he always has with him a ruler, the multiplication table and a scale, symbols of his formamentis. The narrator starts talking after this introduction, he states that children are “little pitchers” who must be filled with facts by Mr Gradgrind, who is like a “cannon loaded to the muzzle” and a “galvanizing apparator” which “storms away” their tender young imagination. These images convey the idea of a shock taking the children out of their normal lives.
In this passage Mr Gradgrind has a new student, Sissy Jupe, who is called according to her sex and an identification number, so she is called Girl number 20, and as she says her name is Sissy, Mr Gradgrind tells her Sissy is not a name, it's a nickname, which are not allow, since they imply human warmth. Moreover as she says his father works in a circus Mr Gradgrind frowns, because in circuses there is no production, only amusement, Sissy's father is a horse tamer, but Mr Gradgrind forces Sissy to say that he's a veterinary surgeon, which is a scientific and respectable job, although he doesn't want her to speak about his father at first, because he is connected to the circus.
Once he has known her father's job, he asks her the definition of a horse, but she can't answer, so she is judged as dispossessed of any fact.
The narrator uses brackets in order to stop the narration and tell the reader that Sissy is alarmed by Mr Gradgrind's question, which shows the close relationship between narrator and reader, who is led to sympathize with Sissy.
After that Bitzer answers, providing a scientific and bookish definition of a horse, even if he may have never seen one. Bitzer is the only one who is called by his name by Mr Gradgrind, because he's the only one who's worthy, he is a learning machine. While Sissy is different because she's not used to this kind of education, she's a normal, real child and not a learning machine, her vitality is underlined by her appearance, in contrast to Bitzer's one. Her father's job is also unusual, because almost everyone worked in factories, while he works in the circus.
Sissy's and Bitzer's appearance is symbolical, indeed Bitzer seems to have no life, because a pale complexion is made fairer by sunlight, he's so pale that if he cuts, he bleeds white, therefore he has no life, not even physically, while her being darker catches the light. Even Mr Gradgrind's one symbolizes narrow-mindedness, he has square fingers, square legs and wears a square coat, then his interests are facts, arithmetic, calculations and science, and he always brings a multiplication table, a ruler and a scale, indeed he represents the typical Victorian man, diligent, serious and authoritarian. His students are therefore diligent and hardworking, but also passive they have no feelings, they're obedient and mechanical.
The themes of this passage are the educational system in the Victorian age, based on statistics, measurings, logical calculations, and linked to materialism and utilitarianism.