Charley Hexam is the son of Gaffer Hexam and younger brother of Lizzie Hexam. He has dreams of rising in society through education and hopes to eventually become a schoolmaster. Due to his father's extreme antipathy for education, though, Charley has to keep his learning a secret. Early on in the novel, his sister sends him off to pursue schooling on some money she has saved up in secret. He ends up under the tutelage of Bradley Headstone and eventually becomes a Pupil-Teacher.
When Bradley makes a failed attempt to convince Lizzie to marry him, Charley disowns his sister for her supposed disrespect and insolence. He feels as if she is holding him back from rising in the ranks of education. Towards the end of the novel, after Bradley has at last gone through with the attempted murder of Eugene Wrayburn, Charley similarly disowns his old schoolmaster. At this point it is noted that Charley has already moved on from Bradley's instruction. Charley tells Bradley how he hopes to become a schoolmaster and marry a respectable school mistress.
"...Mortimer, following them forth from the dining-room, turned into a library of bran-new books, in bran0new bindings liberally gilded, and requested to see the messenger who had brought the paper. He was a boy of about fifteen. Mortimer looked at the boy, and the boy looked at the bran-new pilgrims on the wall, going to Canterbury in more gold frame than procession, and more carving than country.
'Whose writing is this?'
'Who told you to write it?'
'My father, Jesse Hexam.'
... 'What is your father?'
'The boy hesitated, looked reproachfully at the pilgrims as if they had involved him in a little difficulty, then said..., 'he gets his living along-shore'" (28).
- In this scene, Dickens introduces Charley as a messenger who interrupts a high class dinner party by bringing in a handwritten note addressed to the lawyer, Mortimer Lightwood. It is perhaps significant that readers' first glimpse of Charley is in the context of high society as it is a place in Victorian culture that he aspires to attain through education. Charley remains intently focused on the Veneering's painting of the pilgrims at Canterbury, a characteristic that might be indicitive of his captivation and desire for literature and education.
- What's interesting and perhaps ironic about Charley's fascination with the painting is that the content of the painting itself is largely eclipsed by its gaudy presentation. Could this be a reference to the superficiality of education? A closer look at Bradley Headstone as a schoolmaster would seem to suggest so.
- It is also worthwhile to note Charley's initial reproach and reluctance to explain his father's low class profession to a man of much higher standing. Charley seems to be embarrassed by his father, which is one of the reasons Gaffer doesn't want his children to become educated.
"There was a curious mixture in the boy, of uncompleted savagery, and uncompleted civilization. His voice was hoarse and coarse, and his face was coarse, and his stunted figure was coarse; but he was cleaner than other boys of his type; and his writing, though large and round, was good; and he glanced at the backs of the books, with an awakened curiosity that went below the binding. No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot" (28).
- It can be inferred that Charley's state of "uncompleted savagery, and uncompleted civilization" is a comment on his partially educated state of being. He's not entirely learned or "civilized," and nor is he entirely "uncivilized." The description of his physical appearance being "coarse" is, perhaps, meant to signify how his outter appearance portrays his lower class station. But the fact that Dickens notes that Charley is "cleaner of other boys of his type" can be seen as the affect of his preliminary education.
- Dickens also discusses Charley's handwriting in a similarly dualistic nature. It's "large and round," but "good."
- It's also worth discussing the way in which Charley looks at the books on the shelf. His "awakened curiosity that went below the binding" .... (FINISH THIS)