Mrs. Gradgrind: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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Her “Surpassing Feebleness”

      Mrs. Gradgrind is described as a “a little, thin, white, pink-eyed, bundle of shawls, of surpassing feebleness, mental and bodily.” She always takes one medicine or another “without any effect”. Whenever she shows any symptom of recovering strength “she is invariably stunned by some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her.” For example, during her conversation with Bounder by; she does show some kind of strength but the moment Bounderby says that his mother deserted him and bolted, Mrs. Gradgrind gets stunned and faints. When Bounderby carries on his narrative concerning childhood, Mrs. Gradgrind smiles weakly without any sign of vitality. At this moment, she “looked (as she always did) like an indifierently executed transparency of small female figure without enough light behind it.”

Her Immense Faith in Gradgrind’s view of Life

      Though there are no indications of any love between Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind, yet she is a steadfast believer in her husband’s principle of “facts”, not admitting children to “wonder” at anything, not allowing to “fancy” and so on. For example, when it is told to her that Louisa and Tom were seen peeping through the canvas wall of circus, Mrs. Gradgrind says in grumbling manner: “Dear me! How can you, Louisa and Thomas!” She feels deeply sorry for having a family if her issues were to disobey their principles in such a defiant manner.

A Comic Figure: Utterly Unfanciful

      Whenever Mrs. Gradgrind opens her mouth to say something, we feel entertained. Indeed she is a comic figure though humor is not cruel or pungent as it is in the satire made on some other characters. For example, when she rebukes any of her children for wasting away their time, she tells, “Go and be somethingological directly.”

      “In truth, Mrs. Gradgrind’s stock of facts in general was woefully defective. Firstly she was most satisfactory as a question of figures; and, secondly she had nonsense about her.” This description throws great light upon her character. Here “nonsense” means fancy and she was extremely devoid of it.

Her Helplessness

      Mrs. Gradgrind is entirely devoid of any energy or vitality. On any occasion if she collects her strength to say something and if Mr. Gradgrind does not agree to her on the particular point, he looks at her with such scolding expressions that she remains speechless and subsides her feelings. Dickens describes it in following words: ‘At about this point Mr. Gradgrind’s eye would fall upon her, and under the influence of that wintry piece of fact she would become torpid again.”

Few Comic Remarks made by her

      First example of comic situation created by Mrs. Bounderby emerges, when Mrs. Gradgrind knows that her husband has prevailed upon Louisa to consent on Bounderb’s proposal of marriage. Mrs. Gradgrind is this time hopeful about the thing that Louisa, unlike her mother; will enjoy good health during her married life and her brain will not begin to split so soon after getting married, which she herself has fixed. Mrs. Gradgrind tells to Louisa, “However I give you joy my dear and I hope you may now turn all your logical studies to good account, I am sure I do, I must give you a kiss of congratulation, Louisa, but don’t touch my right shoulder, for there is something running down it all day long.” And Mrs. Gradgrind entertains us even more when she shows her distress on being unable to decide how to address her son-in-law in future. She can not call him Mr. Bounderby; or “Josiah” or she cannot address him as “My son-in-law Mister then, what am I to call him?” Later we are informed that she started calling him “J”

Her Death: Blend of Humour and Pathos

      Generally scenes of death are pathetic. Mrs. Gradgrind’s death scene is given in such a way that it seems more comic than full of pathos. Her feeble voice, at the time of her death, echoes in her bundle of shawls that she has been lying at the bottom of a well. When Louisa asks her about any pain she is feeling, Mrs. Gradgrind replies in the most amusing manner: “I think there’s a pain some where in the room, but I couldn’t positively say that I have got it.” She gives another amusing remark on this occasion: “You learnt a good deal, Louisa, and so did your brother. Ologies of all kinds from morning to night. If there is any ology left, of any description, that has not been worn to rags in this house, all I can say is, I hope, I shall never hear its name.” She says to Louisa there is something (not ology) that Mr. Gradgrind has missed or forgotten but she does not know what it is. There is great irony in this remark, though Mrs. Gradgrind does not intend to hint that yet understood by the reader and Dickens.

Conclusion

      Mrs. Gradgrind’s role in the plot of the novel is very insignificant but she gets importance for being a great comic figure. Her comic remarks relieve the bitterness and grimness of the atmosphere of the novel.

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