Tom Gradgrind: Character Analysis in Hard Times

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Tom: The “Whelp”

      Tom can most appropriately be criticized as a most villainous character, a dishonest, undisciplined, ungrateful, untruthful, selfish, hypocrite, crooked, a ‘whelp’ of course. He is most sullen and sulky and belongs to the category of villainous characters in the novel and he seems worst of all. He believes blindly in the system of self-advancement. This man hardly has any redeeming quality.

His Detest for Life at Home

      Tom is introduced early in the story when he was just a child studying in his father Thomas Gradgrind’s model school where he is given the training of “mathematical exactness” and in every sphere of life to be governed by only facts and nothing else. He tells his sister Louisa about his dislike for the manner in which their father is bringing them up. It is with Tom only that his distaste is at the degree to be called an abhorrence. During the childhood period, there was very genuine attachment and affection between brother and sister but later Tom’s love for his sister fades away. He says Louisa that he is fed up with the life at father’s home. He hates this kind of life and everybody in family except her. Tom calls himself a donkey and a mule in sullen voice. He says that he is a stupid and obstinate. He regards his father’s home as jaundiced jail.” As he frees himself from the disciplined atmosphere of this home, where perpetual “fact” is tried to be injected in their mind, he becomes an undisciplined whelp.

His Plan for Future

      From the very boyhood, Tom is looking forward to take revenge when he will become grown-up and stay with his employer Bounderby. Here revenge means to enjoy life, and does everything against the principle of fact according to which he is brought up. He even feels confident to mold Bounderby according to his selfish motive of deriving maximum benefit out of him. He plans to deal with Bounderby by the name of his sister Louisa. Under her name he will obtain favors from him because Tom knows it very well that Louisa is Bounderby’s favorite and he loves her very much. Later, he does everything and remains true to his plan. He exploits Louisa badly to gain economic aid for gambling.

Tom’s Selfish Motive in his effort to marry Louisa marry Bounderby

      Tom is very impatient about his sister Louisa’s consent to Bounderby’s marriage proposal. As he learns that Louisa is going to be informed about marriage proposal he rushes to her and desires her not to reject Bounderby’s proposal for marriage. He says: “It would do me a great deal of good if you were to make up your mind to I know what, Loo. It would be a splendid thing for me. It would be uncommonly jolly” (“Uncommonly jolly” is the favorite phrase of Tom). His urge to persuade his sister to marry Bounderby is due to his selfish motive. He does not care for Louisa’s feelings to Bounderby and the disparity of age between them. He is the embodiment of his father’s utilitarian philosophy. Like his father, he also regards it negligible and very common that there is very great difference between the age of Louisa and Bounderby; even temperamentally they are different, but it does not matter to Tom. When marriage takes place, Tom feels overjoyed because now he will use Louisa to derive money, and take favors from Bounderby. He expresses his happiness in the following manner to Louisa on the occasion, of her marriage: “What a game girl you are, to be such a first-rate sister, Loo.” She is “first rate sister” because through her, he will be able to enjoy certain privileges at Bounderby’s bank and extract money from her for gambling.

Tom: An Instrument used by Harthouse

      Tom Gradgrind is used by shrewd Harthouse in order to pursue his ill plot against Louisa. He wants to know about the life of Louisa. He invites Tom to his hostel room, offers him wine and tobacco. Tom Blurts out informations about his sister’s life in such a way that no brother is expected to utter about his sister or brother-in-law. He cannot understand the intentions of Harthouse. He says to Harthouse that he does not care a little about his brother-in-law. Even his sister does not care for him. She married him because her father and he himself wanted her to marry Bounderby. He explains it in the following manner: “She never had a lover, and the governor proposed old Bounderby, and took him.” He gives lot of information about his sister and it harms her life a lot. Dickens says that if the villain Tom had realized the mischief he has done to his sister that evening, he would have drowned himself in the filthy waters of the close river. He is stupid, selfish as well as an imposter.

Bank Robbery Committed by Tom

      Tom persuades Louisa to marry Bounderby because he intends to use her influence and money for his own needs like gambling. But when Tom’s debt goes beyond Louisa’s capacity to pay, he does not take time to form an ill plot. He robs the bank of Bounderby and makes Stephen Blackpool fall under the suspicion. Louisa suspects that Tom has committed the robbery, but he boldly disowns her indirect charges. But his conscience starts pricking him and he weeps after Louisa leaves his room. He throws himself on the pillow, tears his hair and cries, feeling too miserable.

Tom is Rescued

      Sissy comes forward to rescue Tom. When dying Stephen Blackpool suggests that Tom is guilty of committing robbery she instantly goes to Tom and tells him to slip away from there and take refuge in Mr. Sleary’s circus. Disguised as a comic servant with black face and grotesquely ludicrous livery Tom, defends himself in the following manner: “So many people are employed in situations of trust, so many people, out of so many will be dishonest. I have heard you talk a hundred times, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things, father. Comfort yourself”.

Tom’s Comments upon his Father’s System

      Tom does not understand the shortcoming of the system under which he and Louisa are brought up. He says to Harthouse that his father Gradgrind has “crammed Louisa with all sorts of dry bones and sawdust” because such was his system. He continues to say that he himself is brought up in the same manner. “When I first left him and went to old Bounderby I was as flat as warming-pan, and knew no more about life than any oyster does”. He further says that since then he has picked up a little, no thanks to the governor.

His Ingratitude to Louisa

      Before departing to some foreign country Tom mumbles fow words of apology to his father but he does not say anything to his sister whom he accuses of having deserted him in the moments of crisis. As we know that Louisa has been ceaselessly lavishing her love upon him but he talks to her in most rugged and sarcastic manner. He says that she is callous to him. During his last periods of life, he realizes the love of Louisa and dies with her name on his lips.

An Example of the Failure of Utilitarian Philosophy

      The death that Tom meets does not arouse least sympathy in our mind. He justly deserves that kind of death. Dickens has portrayed this character to illustrate the ruinous consequences to which the utilitarian philosophy can lead. Tom is though not a major character in the novel yet his role is very vital. His manner of defending his act of robbing the bank is a remarkable satire on the educational theory advocated by Gradgrind with great emphasis. When Gradgrind says that he felt shocked by Tom’s dishonesty; Tom reacts in the following manner: “I don’t see why so many people are employed in situations of trust, so many people, out of so many will be dishonest. I have heard your talk, a hundred times, of its being a law. How can I help laws? You have comforted others with such things father. Comfort yourself?”

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