Josiah Bounderby: Character Analysis in Hard Times

Also Read

His Personality

      Josiah Bounderby is a prosperous man; a banker, manufacturer, capitalist claiming to be a self-made man. He is divorced from any human feelings like compassion, sympathy or affection. He believes that people live as butts to be bullied and hands to be dismissed. They exist in his mind only in the case if they are dealing with his ownself. He is “a big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh.” He is “made out of a coarse material.” His head and forehead is puffed. He is a man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon. He is younger a year or two than his friend. Thomas Grad grind who is forty-seven or forty-eight years old. He does not have much hair on his head, one can think that he has “talked his hair off.” Little hair is left on his head that stands up in disorder; they are all the time blown about by his windy pretentions.

“The Bully of Humility”

      Bounderby often boasts about something that others would like to conceal. He boasts of his humble origin. He feels proud of the fact that his parents were very poor and belonged to the lower strata of society He claims of being abandoned by his mother and left into the irresponsible hands of his drunkard grandmother. When he grew up he ran away and after a long rainy days and crisis in life, he has reached to the present prosperous stage. His own efforts and exertions have made him a wealthy man.

      All this is bullying; an attempt to degrade the outside world to the needs of his ego. But when his mother Mrs. Pegler turns up, and it is discovered that she has brought him up with utmost care and love, even then he does not feel any humiliation. This is the cause why Bounderby is remarked by the author as “the bully of humility”.


      Bounderby is not a tender-hearted, sentimental man. When Sissy’s father has deserted her and Gradgrind decided to take her under his protection, it is Bounderby who opposes against Gradgrind’s decision. He keeps Sissy, for one night in his house in order to let Gradgrind think over the matter and if possible drop his decision and do not provide his patronage to Sissy When they discover the reason how Louisa has got interest in the circus, they find it is Sissy’s influence over the mind of the girl. Now Bounderby suggests to expel Sissy from the school, so that other student may not betray the principle of facts.

Disdainful Attitude towards Factory Workers

      As an industrialist, Bounderby is arrogant towards the workers and does not feel least sympathy for them in their miseries. He is of the view that these workers want “to ride in a coach drawn by six horses and to be fad on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon.” He treats the workmen with a mechanical mind, and looks upon them as so many hundred “hands”, so many hundred horse steam power.

His Callousness towards Stephen

      Bounderby’s attitude towards Stephen expresses his contempt and stone heartedness for the workman. He has never tried to understand the miseries of Stephen that he is undergoing because of his unhappy marriage. He says him that he should take his wife for everything good or bad when Stephen expresses that he knows cases in which men from upper classes have been able to get rid of undesirable wives. Bounderby tells him that the procedure to divorce wife is very expensive and complicated and he should not even think about doing that. Later on when Bounderby thinks of using Stephen as an informer, telling him about the internal activities of factory workers and Stephen denies to do that, Bounderby dismisses him as a man who creates troubles to others wherever he goes. He gets furious and adamant when Stephen says that after losing this job, he will not get another job anywhere. Bounderby quickly believes that Stephen has committed the robbery at his bank. He feels dead sure about it and offers a reward to anyone who will help in catching hold of Stephen. In brief, Bounderby’s attitude towards Stephen is very callous and inhuman.

Bounderby: Hungry for Power

      Bounderby insists on presenting himself as a self-made man. In this order he has dissociated himself from all the personal relationships; all that he considers is his link to others in terms of power. Even he has pensioned his mother off under the condition that she will never come to see him or claim ever that he is her son. He dismisses one of his workmen on fanciful grounds, though he knows the fact that it will put him to starvation. Bounderby is made the personification of capitalism. He is very much utilitarian in practice. He does everything out of self-interest which is not in the case of possessing only money but power also. He represents self-interest in terms of Bentham’s principle of ‘greatest happiness’: “First of all you see our smoke. That’s meat and drink to us. It’s the healthiest thing in the world in all respects, and particularly for the lungs. If you are one of those who want us to consume it, I differ from you. We are going to wear the bottoms of our boilers out any faster than we wear ‘em out now, for all the humbugging in Great Britain and Ireland... Now you have heard a lot of talk about the work in our mills, no doubt. You have? Very good. I’ll state the facts of it to you. It’s the pleasantest work there is, and it’s the lightest work there is, and it’s the best paid work there is. More than that, we couldn’t improve the mills themselves, unless we laid down Turkey carpets on the floors. Which we are not going to do...... ”

      The declaration of will for Bounderby has no satisfaction unless it involves the pain of some body. He can not see anyone else in power.

A Callous Husband

      Bounderby treats his wife Louisa as he treats his workmen. Louisa is thirty years younger than him and Bounderby does not know how to treat her. When Gradgrind informs him that Louisa has agreed on his marriage proposal, Boundary shows his love for her in the form of a bracelets and on every occasions during his betrothal his love making takes “a manufacturing aspect.” Dickens informs us, “the business was all facts, from first to last. In other words Bounderby factually treats his wife, never cares her feelings and sentiments. He blindly believes it that Louisa will remain faithful to him because he is “Josiah Bounderby of Coketown”. After introducing Harthouse to Louisa, he gives him complete liberty to meet her any time and pay a number of compliments to her because he has never paid any compliment to Louisa. It is enough for him to be “Josiah Bounderby of Coketown”. He tells Harthouse that manners and social position have no importance in his eyes, though for his wife these may be important. Later on when he listens that Louisa has fled away with Harthouse he feels greatly shocked. He has never thought that he may have been negligible as a husband or he may have not ever shown care for his wife’s feelings. He does not even understand that Gradgrind wants Louisa to stay with him so in order to let her regain mental equilibrium. He gives an ultimatum to Gradgrind and it results in loosing his wife forever and leading the life of a bachelor.

Proud of Mrs. Spar sit’s Aristocratic Background

      In the context of studying Bounderby’s character, his relation with Mrs. Sparsit is very important. He feels proud of it that his housekeeper is a lady from aristocratic background. In this regard Dickens has made the following observation about him: “Just as it belonged to his boastfulness to depreciate his extraction, so it belonged to it to exalt Mrs. Sparsit’s.” In other words, he is used to boast of his humble background and exalting Mr. Sparsit’s high connections. He talks about Mrs. Sparsit without any reservation and is always taking care for her comfort. He is very particular about it that everyone should respect Mrs. Sparsit because she is entitled to it. For example, in his conversation he says that Mrs. Sparsit is a born lady, a great lady and he always takes care of his language whenever he speaks in front of her.

His Misjudgement of Mrs. Sparsit

      Bounderby is certain that Mrs. Sparsit would be shocked to learn that he is going to marry Louisa, he even thinks that she may be collapsed and so he buys a bottle of smelling-salt, when he goes home to tell her about his marriage. But Mrs. Sparsit listens to him with perfect calmness and balance of mind. Bounderby knows it very well that Mrs: Sparsit would not feel comfortable after Louisa’s entry as his wife makes a very sensible suggestion that such a high born and bred woman would be happier if she were to shift in the apartment; of a bank building where all the amenities to which she is entitled would be provided to her. Of course, it is not expected, that Bouilderby would continue to show the courtesy for Mrs. Sparsit. For example, he tells her: “Mrs. Sparsit, in point of high connections, you are on a level with the aristocracy”.

Bounderby dismissed Mrs. Sparsit

      Time takes turn and Bounderby feels the need of dismissing Mrs. Sparsit. For the first time, he talks to her in uncourteous manner when Mrs. Sparsit’s report of his wife's elopement proved false. He does not care for her tears and hustles her into a fast train without offering any kind of refreshment. Later when she unknowingly humiliates him by dragging Mrs. Pegler in front of him, he decides to dismiss her. Mrs. Sparsit, before leaving, without showing any apparent regret, informs him that she has always addressed him as a “noodle” on his back.

A Deceitful Man

      Now Bounderby is exposed as a perfect deceitful man when it is discovered that he had not been deserted in his very infancy by his mother and has not led a miserable life in the hands of his drunken grandmother. Mrs. Pegler, Bounderby’s mother boldly defends herself against the charge that she had abandoned her son in his infancy But Bounderby does not feel the least embarrassment even after being exposed publicly. Instead, he tells the crowd that he does not think it necessary to give them an account of his family affairs. Thus he seems thick-skinned, unaffected by disgrace, humiliation or degradation.

His Injustice with Rachael and Stephen

      Very quickly Bounderby believes that Stephen has committed a robbery in his bank. He continues to believe it till this fact is discovered that Tom is the guilty and Stephen is an innocent. He even does not trust Rachael’s statement that Mrs. Bounderby had visited Stephen’s house two or three days before his departure from Coketown. He believes her account only when Louisa confirms to that.

Bounderby’s End

      In the last chapter of the novel we learn that Josiah Bounderby of Coketown dies of a fit in the street of Coketown. But the news of the death of such contemptuous, hateful man does not arise our sympathy.


      Thus it is Bounderby who creates chaos in Louisa’s life and she finally comes to her father Gradgrind to tell him what has his principle of education done with her. She wants to be a human being with sentiments, feelings and imagination. Her utter failure in married life makes Gradgrind’s eyes open to what is the missing in life as hinted by his wife before death. Gradgrind’s educational theory of facts is best propounded by Bounderby Ruskin, in the critical study of Bounderby’s character; has said that this character is overdrawn. He is a rugged individual, extremely insensitive to the claims of humanity and excessively self-centered. He plays a crucial role in the development of the plot of the novel. England was full of Bounderby Bounderby of Hard Times is a fraud, he pretends to live in the world of facts and his glorified image of being a self-made man is based on corrupt fancy.

Previous Post Next Post