“Hard Times” is a novel written by Charles Dickens in 1854, taking place in a small town called Coketown. In this novel, we learn about many characters, but two stick out to the readers the uttermost, Thomas Gradgrind and Louisa. Gradgrind is brought into the novel as a schoolteacher. “Mr. Gradgrind is a successful ‘businessman’”. He makes a full turnaround in the novel as his view on life and how he does things turn around. Even in the beginning, he is presented as a strict and straight-to-the-point kind of person. In the first chapter, even in the first couple of sentences, it starts with, “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts”. All he wants are facts and that is how he thinks school and educating children is for. Facts were written with a capital F to assert and influence the importance of facts.
Gradgrind believes very strongly in Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the “doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct”. As readers learn more about Gradgrind, he deeply regrets his view of Utilitarianism he defined it as a way of life and an overburdened work ethic at the beginning of the novel. He made this his philosophy for life and wanted everyone else to adapt to it thinking it was reasonable. Gradgrind is “a man of facts and calculations”, that statement really shows how his style of ability backs up his belief that everything can be ordered, recorded, and measured. Gradgrind is so consistent that everything is categorized for how useful it is throughout the novel. Chapter one really shows the reader how in the dark ages, the man really does have a soul and a kind loving heart.
In Gradgrinds’ classroom, it is very evident that he is consumed by science. The desks were arranged being, “boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane.” His classroom being compared to a dark, gloomy, and sluggish imagery that reflects who he really is as a character. His classroom has an absence of color and character. Sissy Jube, one of Gradgrinds’ students, stands out in the first chapter as “irradiated” by light and color as one similar to an angel with a bright spirit among her peers. Bitzer, another one of his students, is one of his brightest students as he turns dark in the novel under Gradgrinds’ influence. Bitzer turns into a darker character as a boy with no imagination or emotion, being described that “he would bleed white.” Blitzer has very detailed definitions correlated to Sissy Jube who seems depleted after answering Gradgrind’s question about horses which was logically a lot harder than what she could endure. Blitzer answers the same question about horses correctly with facts, which is what Gradgrind was initially looking for after being disappointed by Sissy’s bland answer that did not meet his expectations.
Dickens emphasizes Gradgrind’s philosophy of self-interest, categorizing, and calculating in the first few chapters of the novel. It is believed that it is in human nature that all together can be concluded and balanced by rules, guidelines, and order. It is said that Gradgrind is “ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature and tell you what it comes to”. Gradgrind believes he has brought a lot of success from this philosophy to others, such as his students and children. He believes that he has gained a great deal of success in his little town in the novel, gaining a very good prosperity reputation from using this philosophy in his classroom and home, passing his knowledge of facts and grasp of life to his students and peers. Gradgrind genuinely believed that the philosophy of utilitarianism is how children should be brought up being taught at a young age; until he ran into a blockade with Louisa and the life choice she endures at around age 15.
Louisa has a very significant role in the novel, being Gradgrind’s daughter. It is understood that she may be a protagonist. Louisa is similar to her father in the novel, she seems to be very cold, she is silent, and not sympathetic. Dickens may not mean for Louisa to come off so cold, as she may just not know how to show and express her emotions thoroughly. For instance, Gradgrind tries to convince Louisa that it would be wise for her to marry Bounderby for multiple reasons and that it would be in her best interest. As he tries to sway her into marrying Bounderby, she gazes out her window at the factory and detects, “there seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out” (Dickens). She is not able to convey her own feelings she is only able to state what is around her and the atmosphere she is neighboring. This particular statement shows that she is suppressing the feelings that are within her.
Louisa later announces to her father that she is going to accept Bounderby’s proposal. Gradgrind takes this thrilling news with excitement very well, averse to what the readers might predict from Gradgrind this late in the novel from what is already studied from Gradgrind’s profile built up thus far. At this point in the novel, Gradgrind gives a speech showing the change in his overall character for the better. His speech shows a more personal way of life, growth, and behavior in the way he views life as a whole Gradgrind changes his outlook about his philosophy, giving Louisa his best wishes and condolences towards her marriage with Bounderby.
Throughout the course of the novel, it is apparent to the readers that Gradgrind experiences a major, large-scale change in his aspect of life and philosophy. This life change catches the compassion and sympathy of the narrator and readers. Throughout the novel, the narrator’s inflection towards Gradgrind was originally arrogant, and incongruous. Louisa later acknowledges and states that she feels as if something significant is missing from her life. She evaluates that it is love that she is missing from her marriage and that she feels miserable. This is the point in the novel that Gradgrind finally starts to grasp that the philosophy he so strongly believed in, and his structure of education may not have been as effective as he had once believed in. This theory is really proved to be true when Tom, Gradgrind’s eldest son, was guilty of robbing Bounderby’s bank.
Gradgrind learned on multiple occasions and apprehensions that his education system was inefficient and had failed. Gradgrind later stated, “the ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet”. That statement alone demonstrates that he does gain a sense of remorse and that life as a whole is not only based on factual evidence but also emotion. Gradgrinds problems that he endured with his children helped him gain a perspective of emotion. All the problems that he ended up facing through the course of the novel, changes Gradgrind into a compassionate, more abiding father and citizen of his town. Gradgrind ultimately changed into a more joyous, goodwill man at peace better at peace with his mind and life.