Characterization of Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times

Thomas Gradgrind is a representative character of the utilitarian principle of Victorian political economy. He represents the utilitarianism in its most rigid form in the sphere of education, and later in the book in the sphere of his parliamentary activity. His theory of education is based upon the importance of facts, figures and statistics.


Charles Dickens



Human beings are only arithmetical units in his eyes; he doesn't attach any importance to instincts, feelings, affections, fancy and imagination. He does not only run his school in accordance with his theory, but he carries the utilitarian principle into his domestic and family life, bringing up his children in accordance with his theory and marrying up his daughter accordance with it. A leading businessman of Coketown and governor of the school, Gradgrind becomes a member of parliament during the course of the story.

He is married and the father of five, including Louisa and Tomas Gradgrind Jr. two of the major characters. Mr. Gradgrind is a strict disciple of the philosophy of Utilitarianism that prizes have fact above all else. Anything not a fact is considered fancy or sentiment. Mr. Gradgrind practices what he preaches to the letter. Not only are his learning techniques taught in the school, he governs, but his children have been raised by its laws. Their learning has been strictly scientific, free from the “corrupting” influence of poetry, fairy tale, or song.

The novel charts, Mr. Gradgrind's growing realization, but his theories when applied without the humane influence of the heart, can be destructive. A marriage arranged for profit and convenience between Louisa and Bounderby ends in disaster. Tom, becomes a liar and a thief, forced to escape the law in disguise. A basically decent man, Mr. Gradgrind is not beyond redemption, according to Dickens. Largely through the influence of Sissy Jupe and the trauma of Louisa's failed marriage, Mr. Gradgrind grows in wisdom and experience. He pays for his earlier insensitivity by seeing the harmful results of his philosophy: Tom's life of crime, Bitzer's coldhearted practically and Louisa's emotional breakdown. By the end of the novel he is found to be a better man. In this way Mr. Gradgrind is one of the central characters of the novel. Although Mr. Gradgrind and Bounderby personify the utilitarian principle with its insistence if we compare them on the practical aspect of things and the pursuit of money they are distinguished from each other in a striking manner.