Bitzer is a pupil at Mr Gradgrind’s school. As we learn in later chapters, he is a bully and is quite offensive to other children. In chapter 2 Gradgrind asks Bitzer for his definition of a horse after Sissy is unable to define it exactly how Gradgrind has taught it. We learn that Bitzer is described as very pale and in the classroom at the time he sits in sunlight, making him even paler. This makes Bitzer seem angelic and innocent. As the title of the chapter is “Murdering the Innocents” the reader may be wandering if Bitzer is to be murdered. However, when Bitzer speaks, he defines the horse like a dictionary. This tells us immediately that Bitzer has learnt definitions, giving the impression of a studious pupil. He gives exactly what is required of him by his teacher.
Also, Bitzer’s name is like the name of a horse. This is ironic and adds to the sense of the pupils being like animals; required to learn these “facts.” Sissy Jupe is the first girl mentioned in the novel. Previously, all the men have been very strict and authoritarian. When Gradrgrind first refers to her, he calls her “Girl number twenty.” He does not know her name, perhaps because she is new to the school. This would explain why she is uninformed about the definition of the horse. When Sissy stands up, she blushes and curtseys. This shows sensitivity which had not appeared in the novel before this point.
When she tells Gradgrind that her name is Sissy, he immediately tells her off: “Sissy is not a name… Call yourself Cecilia.” He is further angered when Cecilia says that her father “belongs to the horse-riding.” He tells her that this is no way to describe one’s career and that she ought to say “he is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier and horsebreaker.” Gradgrind now probably realises that he has regressed from the lesson, and wants to get back on track. He asks Sissy for a definition of a horse. When she is unable to answer he says “Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!” He does not refer to her as ‘Cecilia’ showing his hostility towards her.
Dickens then goes on to draw contrasts between Sissy and Bitzer. These are two opposite pupils; one (Bitzer) is seen as angelic by Gradgrind, and the other (Sissy) is seen as the worst pupil. On page 7, Dickens claims that “No, Sir!” was always the right answer to Gradgrind’s questions. This lack of variety shows the continued theme of fact and order in the classroom. When we are told that Sissy says ‘yes,’ we are also told that her voice is ‘feeble.’ This continues to show the conflicting ideas of Gradgrind and Sissy: Gradgrind wants a mechanical class where everything is fact, yet Sissy wants to ‘fancy.’ Sissy goes on to say “I am very fond of flowers,” giving us this continued theme of sensitivity from her. The gentleman then says “you mustn’t fancy,” again attacking Sissy for her character. The men do not show sympathy for the girl, as they have complete faith in their method of teaching. They believe it to be the best way to educate one’s self.
We also learn about Sissy’s naiviety “she were frightened by the matter of fact prospect the world afforded.” In comparison with the men who give the impression that they are highly educated and mature. Of course this adds to the irony, because Dickens knew that the style of teaching was wrong and ineffective. In conclusion I feel the hostility shown towards Sissy, is because of her different background. There is such a big contrast between fact and fancy. She is like a broken cog in a machine, and this is why Gradgrind is angry, because only she can ‘fix’ herself by learning ‘facts.’