Thomas Gradgrind: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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Gradgrind’s Physical Appearance

      At the very beginning of the novel, Dickens gives the description of Gradgrind’s physical appearance in a comic manner: “The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders—nay his very neckcloth, trained to take him by his throat with an uncommanded grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was—all helped the emphasis.” He has a forehead that looks like a square wall, with his eyebrows serving as its base; his eyes are like two dark caves overshadowed by the square wall of the forehead; his mouth is wide, thin and hard set, his voice is flexible, dry and dictatorial;

Gradgrind’s Principle of Educational Theory

      The novel starts with the statement that exposes Gradgrind’s educational theory. He says that all he wants is “facts”. He instructs very seriously the new schoolmaster to teach the students nothing but facts because facts alone are wanted in life. He exhorts the schoolmaster to plant only facts in the mind of the students and root out everything else. “You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!” He further says, “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir, nothing but Facts!” Moreover this emphasis on facts is greatly assisted by his physical appearance.

      Gradgrind is regarded as the “man of fact” and “eminently practical”. He says, “Two and two are four, and nothing over.” Thus he submits everything to his factual creed and wipes away every kind of imagination, heart’s sentiments and feelings. Actually Dickens was aimed to expose the inhumanity of the economic doctrines and the utilitarian philosophy of the contemporary time.

‘Gradgrind’ suggestive of Grindstone

      The very name “Gradgrind” suggests the hardness and impenetrable rigid property of a grindstone. In Book II, Ch. II of the novel we find Dickens mentioning the utilitarian political economists as the “Hard Fact Fellows”. In one of his letters, Dickens has explained the satire of this novel made against “those who see figures and averages, and nothing else—the representatives of the wickedest and most enormous vice of this time.” Dickens is not intended to condemn contemporary industrialism, but the utilitarian philosophy of the time. Grad grind only takes interest in facts and figures. He wants to examine the world with a pair of compasses, and he fails to profit from an early blow outside Sleary’s circus, while Mrs. Gradgrind suggests short before her death that her children’s education lacks in something, it is that her husband has forgotten or missed.

The Definition of a Horse

      Gradgrind’s principle of facts is very well illustrated when he addresses in the classroom, “girl number twenty” and thereafter disapproves her father’s address to her as Sissy. He says that her name is Cecilia not Sissy. Then he asks her to define a horse according to certain facts. A remarkable comic vein we receive when he says to Sissy after Bitzer’s definition of horse. “No girl number twenty you know about a horse is”. Gradgrind also agrees with the government official who instructs the pupils never to fancy but stick to facts. Gradgrind believes that his school is running as a model institution. He wants every pupil to be a model.

Gradgrind’s Family

      Gradgrind has five children and he brought them up in accordance to his principle of educational theory dealing only with facts and nothing else. He thinks each of his children a model. Even the house named ‘Stone Lodge’, is a “matter-of-fact home, a calculated, balanced and measured house, with a certain number of windows equal on both sides. His lawn, garden, an avenue, “all ruled straight like a botanical account-book”. “His children are given different cabinets for separate branches of knowledge. They have a little conchological cabinet, a little metallurgical cabinet, a little mineralogical cabinet etc.

Gradgrind against Fancy and Wonder

      Gradgrind has always checked his eldest child Louisa from indulging in any “fancies” because it is against his principle of education. He has told her never “to wonder”. He likes to settle everything by means of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. He strictly condemns any cultivation of sentiments, affectations, fancy and imagination. His children have never seen a face in the moon nor has ever learned any nursery rhyme: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are.” None of his children has been allowed to wonder. As far as the stars are concerned, they have been well taught all the important facts of astronomy

His Membership in Parliament is presented Satirically

      Gradgrind is desperately harboring the ambition of becoming the Member of Parliament. In a satirical manner, Dickens says that Gradgrind is “now looking for a suitable opportunity of making an arithmetic figure in parliament.” Later his ambition is accomplished. Dickens says that he becomes one of the delegates of the multiplication table, one of the esteemed members for ounce - weights and measures, and so on. “He was usually sifting and sifting at his parliamentary cinder-heap in London, and was still hard at it in the national dust-yard. ”

Gradgrind’s Success in persuading Louisa to marry Bounderby

      Gradgrind succeeds in making his daughter Louisa to marry Bounderby with the help of his practical philosophy based on facts and strictly dissociated from imagination, wonder and emotions. To him, the long difference between Bounderby’s age and Louisa is no important issue (Bounderby is fifty years old and Louisa is only twenty). He justifies his point on the grounds of statistics (that he has closely studied) that this kind of difference between the age of bridegroom and bride is very common, thus it should not stand as a bar in between Bounderby and Louisa so far their marriage is concerned.

      He remains completely unaffected by Louisa’s ironical statement that he is ruled ruthlessly by facts and tells her to marry Bounderby because of the permission given by facts which must govern all other considerations. Dickens says that Gradgrind “with his unbending, utilitarian, matter-of-fact voice” keeps on asking Louisa incessantly and ruthlessly what has she decided. He can not realize at all that Louisa is not provided with any other option.

The Heartless, Thick-skinned Man

      Gradgrind feels glorified over what Louisa feels regret, specially that she has been brought up in the manner that she never had seen a child s dream, never had a child’s apprehension or belief. He, indeed goes beyond his ways in asking her if she has ever entertained secretly any other marriage proposal. But he says he is just doing his duty in asking this question. He is “eminently practical, and in case Louisa had ever entertained any other proposal, Gradgrind would have used some method to erase any such illusion from her mind. He really seems heartless and thick-skinned almost ruthless in the interview with Louisa.

His Mechanical Relationship with Mrs. Gradgrind

      Gradgrind’s attitude towards his wife lacks emotions. He has a mechanical routine relationship with his wife who quickly subsides her mental excitement when he looks at her. Indeed under the impact of that “wintry piece of fact” no one is permitted to feel any mental excitement. In London, he receives the news of his wife’s death. He comes from there to Coketown and returns immediately after performing his role in burial ceremony as some business. Gradgrind’s return to London, in order to resume his parliamentary acts just after the funeral, is described in the following words: “He then returned with promptitude to the national cinder-heap and resumed his sifting for the odds and ends he wanted and his throwing of the dust about into the eyes of other people who wanted other people who wanted other odds and ends—in fact resumed his parliamentary duties.”

Gradgrind: Essentially Kind-Hearted

      Gradgrind is essentially a kind hearted man in spite of his utilitarian philosophy and excessive devotion to facts. Dickens presents him as: “Mr. Gradgrind though hard enough, was by no means so rough a man as Mr. Bounderby. His character was not unkind, all things considered; it might have been a very kind one indeed, if he had only made some round mistake in the arithmetic that balanced it, years ago.” In other words his kindness is suppressed by the inhuman education that he has been teaching. Still his kind heartedness plays its role when occasion calls for that. For example as he listens that Sissy’s father has gone away deserting her to fend for herself, immediately he proposes to take Sissy under his protection. Though Bounderby opposes this decision yet he takes her to home. Next instance is, though bad reports keep oh coming from the school regarding the progress of Sissy, he realizes certain merits of Sissy, and he always treats her with kindness and love.

His Reaction on Listening Failure of Louisa’s Marriage

      Gradgrind is not that kind of person who is utterly uncompromising and adamant for not accepting changes, or being improved. In fact his character develops and gets changes according to the circumstances. He very soon, realizes his blunders that he has been committing. His outlook upon life is tremendously changed when he sees that his education policy has ruined the life of his children. In the very beginning he is disappointed when he sees Louisa and Tom peeping through the canvas wall to know what is a circus. They wanted to have a glimpse of circus and this forced them to peep through the canvas wall of the tent where circus is going on. Thomas Gradgrind has never expected his children to defy his principle of education. But this incident means little to him and does not make him to cease the kind of education he is giving to his children and students of his school. The real disillusionment comes when he is confronted by his daughter who has run away from her husband Bounderby’s home in a confused state whether to flee with lover Harthouse or not. Gradgrind now admits his full responsibility for the utter failure of Louisa’s marriage and his shortsightedness in notwithstanding the human sentiments and feelings in such important matters like marriage. The manner through which the predicament of Louisa makes him a pathetic figure makes us to feel great sympathy for him. He is presented here as truly remorseful and panic. He, very boldly faces Bounderby and decides to let Louisa stay with him unless she recovers from her shock and weakness though Bounderby gives him an ultimatum that he will wait for Louisa only till the noon of next day.

His Reaction on Realizing Tom’s Act of Bank Robbery

      But Gradgrind’s misfortune does not end here. Another adversity is waiting for him. It is discovered to him that his son Tom is the real guilty in robbing Bounderby’s bank. Stephen, before death has told Gradgrind to ask his son about the bank robbery It is the climax of Tom’s irresponsible attitude to life as well as the consequence of defective educational theory But Gradgrind tries to handle everything with calm and peace. Here, again his soft-heartedness and humanity is shown when he does his best to defend Tom against any legal action on committing crime. This is another triumph of Gradgrind the father; over Gradgrind the theoretician. He succeeds in shifting Tom to some foreign country But he comes out as a man of integrity also when he admits publicly Stephen’s innocence and Tom’s, responsibility in robbing the bank.

Two Gradgrinds in the Novel

      If we notice, we find two Gradgrinds in the novel. One is the caricature on nineteenth-century education policy He appears in caricature on nineteenth-century education policy. He appears in the very beginning of his school, teaching utilitarian philosophy He believes that human beings is known by numbers not by the philosophy Any definition touched by fancy does not convince him. He agrees to the definition of Bitzer because his definition is based on facts. He scolds Sissy when she fails to give any convincing answer. Both Louisa and Tom have been brought up in accordance with the principle of facts. Towards the end of the novel we see another Gradgrind, reformed and kind-hearted. He is modified, changed or in other word, transformed. He is converted as well as purified after receiving respect and sympathy of the reader. He is emancipated by Sissy from the chains of abstract intellectualism. He has now made “facts and figures” subsidiary to “faith, hope, and do charity” and decides to do no longer anything to suppress them.

Gradgrind, Dickens’ Object of Satire

      Gradgrind, overemphasizing the “Facts” says: “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir, nothing, but Facts”. Gradgrind is presented as a man of realities, facts and calculations, a man who believes in the principle that two and two makes four and nothing more. He keeps a rule, a pair of scales, and a multiplication table always in his pocket, ready to examine anyone and tell exactly he comes to. He seems a case of simple arithmetic. He looks upon his boys and girls in the class room as little vessels or pitchers which are to be filled upto the brim with facts.

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