Hard Times

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Thomas Gradgrind Character Analysis

Mr. Gradgrind is a school superintendent who promotes an education based on facts alone (no talk of imagination or emotions, please) and later becomes a Member of Parliament. His two eldest children, Louisa and Tom, suffer greatly from being brought up under this philosophy, and Gradgrind eventually comes to learn the error of his ways and dedicate his life to fostering faith, hope, and charity.

Thomas Gradgrind Quotes in Hard Times

The Hard Times quotes below are all either spoken by Thomas Gradgrind or refer to Thomas Gradgrind. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Hard Times published in 2001.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, 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!"

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening scene of the novel, we're introduced to a thoroughly unpleasant character, Thomas Gradgrind. Gradgrind is a schoolteacher, but he has none of the affection or whimsy one might associate with someone who teaches kids. Instead, Gradgrind is harsh and stern--he essentially treats his students like adults, or even like machines. Gradgrind emphasizes the importance of facts in education: learning, he argues, is all about mastering an unchanging set of pieces of information.

Gradgrind's view of education is absurd for a number of reasons. It holds no appeal for an imaginative author like Charles Dickens--it was creativity, not command of information, that made Dickens successful. Gradgrind has often been interpreted as the embodiment of 19th century Utilitarianism, the economic and political doctrine that emphasized quantity and mathematical precision in all things. In the 19th century, England became a mechanized, industrialized society--as Dickens sees it, Gradgrind is exemplary of the country's shift toward information, numbers, and figures--a shift that made England powerful but also heartless.

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Book 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

‘Bitzer,' said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.'

‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind (speaker), Bitzer (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Gradgrind's methods in action. He calls on a toadying young boy named Bitzer, asking him for a definition of a horse. Bitzer proceeds to give a "definition" of horse that is semantically accurate and yet wildly misleading. Bitzer's glib lists of facts about horses tell us nothing about the animals themselves; he away takes all the charm and beauty of horses.

The passage, then, is Dicken's critique of Gradgrind's Utilitarian teaching methods. The world is made up of more than facts--the world is a place of beauty, poetry, imagination, and emotion; all the things that can't be summed up with a list of pure statistics. In turning his back on the beauty of the world, Gradgrind does a huge disservice to his students. 

Book 1, Chapter 15 Quotes

‘Father,' said Louisa, ‘do you think I love Mr Bounderby?'

Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited by this unexpected question. ‘Well, my child,' he returned, ‘I — really — cannot take upon myself to say.'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind (speaker), Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, from the final pages of Book One, Louisa makes the crushing decision to marry Bounderby, a man she instinctively dislikes. Louisa goes to her father for help and advice, and finds that he's extremely unhelpful. Gradgrind has always trained Louisa to think of facts, not feelings. So when it comes time to decide whether or not to marry Bounderby, Louisa has no way of making a decision--there's simply no way that facts alone can decide a marriage. Gradgrind's weakness and incompetence is crystal-clear in this passage: he seems to acknowledge (albeit ten years too later) the hole in his education program. By focusing so exclusively on information, Gradgrind has impoverished his own soul, and left his two children lonely and repressed, without even a conception of what real love is (as this darkly humorous passage shows).

Book 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

‘This night, my husband being away, he has been with me, declaring himself my lover. This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means!'

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind (speaker), Thomas Gradgrind, Louisa Gradgrind, James Harthouse
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn the truth: after Mrs. Sparsit loses sight of Louisa, she doesn't go to meet with Harthouse in Coketown--instead, she goes to visit her father. Louisa pours out her heart to her father, accusing him of raising her to be emotionally clueless, so that she was naturally victim to smooth flatterers like James Harthouse. She demands that her father help her out of her current emotional problem--a problem for which facts and figures are absolutely beside the point.

In many ways, the entire novel has been building up to this scene. We've seen ample evidence of the limitations of Gradgrind's methods of education, but it's not until now that Louisa has shown real anger with her father for stunting her emotional development. Louisa, we always knew, still had some "fire" in her--here, she finally lets the fire out.

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Thomas Gradgrind Character Timeline in Hard Times

The timeline below shows where the character Thomas Gradgrind appears in Hard Times. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 2
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Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
That scary-looking man is Mr. Thomas Gradgrind. He proceeds to grill the children on what practical knowledge they possess (not much, with... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 3
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Mr. Gradgrind walks back to his home, called Stone Lodge, he thinks with satisfaction about the education... (full context)
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...tries to clear her brother of any blame by saying she brought him along. Mr. Gradgrind just scolds them as he takes them home, and adds, "What would Mr. Bounderby say?" (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4
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...inflated, coarsely made man. He is standing in Stone Lodge, boasting to the feeble Mrs. Gradgrind about his rags-to-riches background—he spent his youth living in a ditch, deserted by his mother,... (full context)
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Mr. Gradgrind returns with Louisa and Thomas, having dragged them from the circus, and indignantly exposes the... (full context)
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Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby set off for Coketown to confront the Jupes. As they leave, Mr.... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 5
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Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby stroll into industrial Coketown, once a red brick town but now discolored,... (full context)
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On their way to the Jupes' home, Gradgrind and Bounderby collide with Sissy Jupe and Bitzer; Gradgrind finds, to his chagrin, that his... (full context)
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...jeers at her and her father's way of earning their living. In response to Mr. Gradgrind's somewhat kinder questions, she docilely leads them to where she and her father are staying. (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
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Sissy leads Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby into the pub, called the Pegasus's Arms, where she, her father, and... (full context)
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...he loved dearly, because of his shame in his failure to earn their living. As Gradgrind and Bounderby discuss what they ought to do with this now father-less child (Gradgrind wants... (full context)
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Sissy returns in tears upon discovering her father's desertion, and accepts Mr. Gradgrind's offer to take her into his home and educate her. The circus players, who all... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 7
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Mr. Gradgrind, Louisa, and Sissy enter the room. Upon questioning, Sissy lets slip that she and her... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 9
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After a lot of time spent with Mr. Gradgrind's education of facts, Sissy hasn't made much "progress." One night she falls into conversation with... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 14
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...grown into young women, and Tom is now a young man, apprenticed to Bounderby. Mr. Gradgrind's education of facts has not affected Sissy, who has acquired none of the knowledge he... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 15
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Mr. Gradgrind summons Louisa to his room, and informs her that Mr. Bounderby has asked for her... (full context)
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...will marry Mr. Bounderby, which she knows is her father's wish. Taking her downstairs, Mr. Gradgrind announces the news of the betrothal to his wife and Sissy. Louisa sees the look... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 1
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...and the Bank's porter. In their conversation, they discuss what a lazy young man Tom Gradgrind is. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 2
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...who recommended that he go work for Bounderby, whom his brother refers to, along with Gradgrind, as the "Hard Fact fellows". Mr. Harthouse and Mr. Bounderby meet, and after Bounderby pompously... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 6
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...who she lost, when suddenly there is a knock at the door. Louisa and Tom Gradgrind enter. From the look on his face, it is clear that Tom is not here... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 9
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As Mrs. Gradgrind lies dying, she feebly attempts to tell Louisa that she has realized that she and... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 1
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Mr. Gradgrind leaves her to rest, and Sissy comes in. Louisa immediately is filled with anger and... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 3
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...her into a carriage in which they rush to Stone Lodge. There, he confronts Mr. Gradgrind, yelling about Louisa's affair with Harthouse. When Gradgrind reveals that Louisa came to him rather... (full context)
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Losing none of his bluster, Bounderby then demands of Mr. Gradgrind an explanation for his daughter's behavior. As Mr. Gradgrind hesitatingly tries to explain that her... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 4
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...skeptical of all of their claims, and angrily storms off, with Tom following after him. Gradgrind expresses sadness that an innocent man would be falsely charged with a crime, which causes... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 5
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...Bounderby's house, and triumphantly presents her to Bounderby (who happens to be meeting with Mr. Gradgrind and Tom), as one of the suspects connected with the robbery. Her actions draw a... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 6
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He then calls Louisa to his side, who has also come along with Tom, Gradgrind, and many others, and tells her to bring Mr. Gradgrind to him, which she does... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 7
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Tom, however, has mysteriously disappeared. As Stephen gave his last instructions to Mr. Gradgrind, Sissy whispered something in Tom's ear, and he vanished before anyone present at Stephen's rescue... (full context)
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Gradgrind goes into seclusion for a full day, not eating or speaking to anyone, and emerges... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 8
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"Bitzer," says Mr. Gradgrind, "have you a heart?" Naturally, his old star pupil does not, and neither will he... (full context)
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...he will let Bitzer use his carriage to take Tom back to Coketown. Louisa and Gradgrind are dismayed, but Sissy recognizes that Sleary, in fact, has a plan to free Tom.... (full context)
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Gradgrind tries to pay Sleary, but Sleary refuses any money, saying instead that Gradgrind should just... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 9
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...miserly old lady. Mr. Bounderby continues being the arrogant, blustery humbug he always was. Mr. Gradgrind remedies his ways and changes his philosophy of life and education so that facts make... (full context)