Louisa Gradgrind: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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Louisa has a “starved imagination”

      When we first get introduced to Louisa, she is a girl of fifteen or sixteen. She is both beautiful and intelligent. She is the most favorite child of her father, Mr. Gradgrind. Mr. Gradgririd has crushed her imagination and emotions in her childhood. He is always conscious not to let any emotion or fancy develop in the child’s mind because he firmly believes in the theory of facts and facts only. In Dickens’ own words Louisa has a “starved imagination.” The only source upon whom she can expend herself is her brother Tom who is utterly self-centered. Her mind is stuffed with facts and figures but her heart longs for some graces of soul.

Very Unhappy Childhood

      Louisa and Tom, both are brought up according to the principle of facts. When we first meet her, it appears that her childhood has not been happy. We meet her peeping through the hole of canvas wall of circus with Tom, and this shows that she has desire to see the world outside her father’s strict educational policy of facts or restraints upon her. She is not allowed to wander or feel any curiosity for other aspects except facts. She often sits wondering at the kind of life she is undergoing though this wonder is not noticed by her father. She is the chief victim of her father’s system who sometimes sits looking at fire, having nothing else to do.

Her Love for Brother Tom

      F. R. Leavis points out, “Having no outlet for her emotional life except in her love for her brother, she lives for him, and marries Bounderby under pressure from Tom - for Tom’s sake” The deep affection for Tom is the most striking feature of Louisa’s character. She agrees to marry Bounderby just for Tom’s career otherwise she despises him with all her hearts. Whenever Tom requires, money for gambling, she is used to provide him. She has gone to the extent of selling some of her trinkets to help Tom in his troubles. It is only when Tom demands great amount of money, she refuses to give him. This leads Tom to rob the bank of his sister’s husband Bounderby. Louisa tries her best to make Tom confess his guilt because she wants to help him so that he may not get into any trouble. But her love for Tom never decreases even after knowing that he is a culprit. Harthouse gets surprised to see that only Tom’s sight gives smile to her lips and her eyes get brightened to see him.

First Crisis in Louisa’s Life

      The first severe crisis in Louisa’s life comes in the shape of Bounderby's marriage proposal. She, after an interval of silence, asks many questions to her father: “Father, do you think I love Mr. Bounderby”? “Father, do you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?” “Father, does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love him?” Gradgrind feels great embarrassment at her questions. His answer, he says, rests “on the sense in which we use the expression”. He says that Bounderby does not want to lay this impression on her mind that he is fanciful, sentimental or imaginative. She says, “Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him?” “Shall I marry him?”

      During her total conversation, Louisa has been subjected to her father fixedly. After moving her eyes from him, she sits very long looking towards the town silently. Gradgrind then interrupts, “Are you consulting the chimneys of the Coketown works, Louisa?” She answers, “There seems to be nothing but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out, Father.” Louisa is given no alternative in the matter of marriage. She says: “What do I know father, of tastes and fancies, of aspirations and affections? The baby preference that even I have heard of as common among children, has never had its innocent resting place in my breast. You have been so careful of me that I never had a child’s heart. You have trained me so well that I never dreamed a child’s dream. You have dealt so wisely with me. Father, from my cradle to this hour, that I never had a child’s belief or a child’s fear”. All the statements of Louisa are very much sarcastic and ironical, though her father does not understand it.

The Second Crisis

      Louisa escapes from Harthouse’s hand only through her own courage and integrity She leaves both husband and lover, and reveals everything to her father but in the manner of reproaching him. While accusing her father she says, “How would you give me life, and take from all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done.” Then she flings her both hands on her breast “with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here !” Mr. Gradgrind replies, “I never knew you were unhappy, my child.” “Father, I always knew it. In this strife... my dismal resource has been to think that life would soon go by, and that nothing in it could be worth the pain and trouble of a contest..... I do not know that I am sorry I do not know that I am ashamed. I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!” Next day he says to Louisa that his intention was to do right.

Louisa’s Relation with Her Husband

      Louisa has been contemptuous to Bounderby right from her childhood. She marries him not out of love but because first, she does not want to disappoint her father and second, for the career of Tom who is working in Bounderby’s bank. Her father, when talked to her about Bounderby’s marriage proposal, he has not given her any alternative. When she asks her father about his advice, he says to consider the matter as she has been accustomed to take other questions as one of the “tangible facts.” He starts talking about “statistics” to indicate that marrying too older man is a very common issue. Being brought up according to utilitarian philosophy Louisa cannot gather her courage to refuse Bounderby’s marriage proposal. Besides, she knows it is advantageous to her brother Tom also. After getting married with Bounderby Louisa remains loyal and faithful to him. Even after the introduction of Harthouse on the scene, she has not done anything that can harm her conjugal relation in spite of Harthouse’s insistence. There is only one scene in the novel where we meet a quarrel between Louisa and her husband. But this time also, Louisa is not wrong.

Louisa’s Relations with Harthouse

      Harthouse fascinates Louisa with his “smooth manners” and his “assumed honesty in dishonesty”. She feels attracted because it seems to her that Harthouse is free from all kinds of ostentatious and hypocrisy Harthouse takes a lot of interest in her brother Tom to whom Louisa is greatly concerned.

      She is not shrewd enough to understand the strategy of Harthouse, employed to win her heart. The most important reason behind Louisa’s feeling drawn towards Harthouse is that she is leading a life without love or affection. She has been yoked to Bounderby who believes in the theory of facts and he is thrust upon her. But we should admire Louisa’s goodness because inspite of subtle strategy of Harthouse, she does not fall in other trap even when he shows his love in most ardent manner. She gets confused and does not reply to him. A great battle between the claims of heart and conscience is going on. Without any delay she goes to meet her father in this crisis. Here she shows herself as a woman of great integrity.

Her Relations with Sissy

      In the beginning the relation between Sissy and Louisa was very harmonious and friendly. But when Louisa feels that Sissy is feeling upset and disturbed on her consent to marry Bounderby, from that moment onwards, she keeps a distance from Sissy. This coldness and rigidness of Louisa to Sissy again changes into affection when she sees that Sissy is looking after her during her sickness with great devotion and affection. From this time, Louisa has started regarding Sissy as her best friend in the world.

Her Sympathetic Attitude towards Stephen

      Though Louisa is brought up in accordance with utilitarian principles, she has not lost her all natural sentiments. Apart from loving Tom and affection for Sissy, she feels sympathy for Stephen whom Bounderby has just dismissed from the job without any genuine cause. She, herself, goes to his house and not only tries to console him but offers liberal financial aid to him. When Bounderby does not believe Rachael for her information that his wife had once visited Stephen’s house, Louisa immediately confirms Rachael’s information.

Her Inner Moral Advancement

      Louisa’s unselfish affection for his worthless brother shows her genuine kindness. She knows nothing about the community of workmen, she is trained to consider anything according to statistics. She has never met a “Hand” face to face, but Louisa understands the pains and sorrows of Stephen. She offers whatever she can in order to help Stephen. But she does not know that this time also she is an instrument used by Tom who turns this visit into a chaos for Stephen.


      Overall, Louisa is the character that is most worthy of appreciation. Her image remains in the mind of readers even after finishing the novel.

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