Hard Times

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Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) Character Analysis

Tom, the second oldest Gradgrind child, fares worse than Louisa in that his character is almost irrevocably deformed by his education of facts. He turns into a grumpy, sulky young man who ends up robbing a bank to help pay off his debts and nearly breaks the heart of his father and sister in the process.

Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) Quotes in Hard Times

The Hard Times quotes below are all either spoken by Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) or refer to Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom). 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 3 Quotes

There was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Dickens describes two of the key characters of the novel, Gradgrind's children--Tom and Louisa. Both children are testaments to the tragic futility of Gradgrind's emphasis on facts. Try as he might, Gradgrind's attempts to make his children practical and efficient are failing: Tom and especially Louisa are intelligent and imaginative in a way that nobody can stamp out. Louisa in particular is a creative, imagination person--she sees the world in a fundamentally different way than Gradgrind does. Dickens conveys Louisa's creativity and adventurousness by comparing her to a fire with nothing to burn: in a harsh, efficient world, Louisa has no outlets for her energy or adventurousness. And while as children Tom and Louisa still have this "heart" and "fancy," as they grow up with their father's world of hard facts they find themselves emotionally warped and repressed.

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Book 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

‘I wish I could collect all the Facts we hear so much about,' said Tom, spitefully setting his teeth, ‘and all the Figures, and all the people who found them out: and I wish I could put a thousand barrels of gunpowder under them, and blow them all up together! However, when I go to live with old Bounderby, I'll have my revenge.'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Josiah Bounderby
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tom, still a young man, claims to be irritated with his father's emphasis on facts and figures--instead of accepting Gradgrind's example, he rebels, claiming that he would like to destroy all the facts that Gradgrind is obsessed with. The passage is a great example of how Utilitarianism can actually have an opposite effect on its pupils; i.e. instead of making its pupils efficient and hard-working, it just makes them miserable and soulless. (As we'll see later, Tom grows up to be a lazy, bitter man--hardly the image of efficiency and intelligence that Gradgrind had hoped for.)

The passage further complicates Tom's character by suggesting that Tom's only joy in life is manipulating other people--he seems to take pleasure in manipulating Mr. Bounderby (as we'll see, Bounderby has a crush on Louisa). It's as if Tom's upbringing has been so harsh and soulless that manipulating others is his only source of pleasure.

Book 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

‘Well, sister of mine,' said Tom, ‘when you say that, you are near my thoughts. We might be so much oftener together — mightn't we? Always together, almost — mightn't we? 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!'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Years have now passed, and Tom and Louisa have grown into subdued, soulless people who don't know how to love or express emotion. Tom knows that Louisa loves him, however, if nobody else. In this passage. Tom is clearly trying to manipulate his sister into helping him out. We're not told exactly what Tom is asking his sister to do (marry Bounderby, as we'll later see), but the bigger point is that Tom is using his sister's affection for him as leverage. Tom, we can surmise, doesn't really love his sister that much--his childhood with Gradgrind has left him so emotionally impoverished that his only source of pleasure is controlling other people's feelings. He is, one could say, the Frankenstein's monster that Gradgrind's education program has created.

Book 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

‘An individual, ma'am,' said Bitzer, ‘has never been what he ought to have been, since he first came into the place. He is a dissipated, extravagant idler. He is not worth his salt, ma'am. He wouldn't get it either, if he hadn't a friend and relation at court, ma'am!'

Related Characters: Bitzer (speaker), Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom), Mrs. Sparsit
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bitzer (whom we met at the beginning of Book One, when he was still a kid) has turned out to be an obsequious, gossiping porter for a factory bank. Bitzer tells Mrs. Sparsit that Tom Gradgrind has turned out to be a lazy, useless employee of the bank. We can surmise that Tom has continued to work for Bounderby because he's now Bounderby's brother-in-law (Louisa has married Bounderby after all).

The passage suggests that nobody who passed through Gradgrind's fingers turned out right. Bitzer seems to be harder-working than Tom, but he's just as heartless in the way he critiques Tom and gossips to anyone who'll listen. He's hardly a likable character; like many of the factory employees, he's more interested in money than people, a clear reflection of the education he received from Gradgrind and the general industrialization of English society.

Book 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

‘Oh,' returned Tom, with contemptuous patronage, ‘she's a regular girl. A girl can get on anywhere. She has settled down to the life, and she don't mind. It does just as well as another. Besides, though Loo is a girl, she's not a common sort of girl. She can shut herself up within herself, and think — as I have often known her sit and watch the fire — for an hour at a stretch.'

Related Characters: Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind, James Harthouse
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tom has a drink with Jem Harthouse. Tom, intoxicated, opens up to Jem about his sister, Louisa. In the course of the conversation, he reveals that Louisa has only married Bounderby as a favor to him--she actually despises Bounderby. Tom seems utterly indifferent to Louisa's feelings; he's more concerned about his own success as an employee of the factory. Furthermore, he reveals his own sexist and dehumanizing beliefs here--because Louisa is a woman, he presumes, she can "get on anywhere." Her marital happiness is of no consequence to Tom.

The passage also reinforces a key fact about Louisa--in spite of her education at the hands of Gradgrind, and in spite of her sad, lonely life, she still has a spark left. Tom points out, for not the first time in the novel, that Louisa has a curious affinity with fire--perhaps symbolizing her imagination and adventurousness, which have been tragically suppressed by her marriage.

Book 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

‘Your brother. My young friend Tom — '

Her colour brightened, and she turned to him with a look of interest. ‘I never in my life,' he thought, ‘saw anything so remarkable and so captivating as the lighting of those features!'

Related Characters: James Harthouse (speaker), Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom)
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Harthouse begins his seduction of Louisa. Harthouse pretends to run into Louisa by accident; then he proceeds to flatter her excessively. Because Louisa has never been treated with anything but callous efficiency, she's immediately interested in Harthouse; he represents an alternative to her usual way of life.

The passage also suggests that what really interests Louisa about Harthouse isn't exactly his flattery--rather, it's his association with Tom, Louisa's beloved brother. Louisa shows affection for Tom long after the point when it's obvious that Tom doesn't really love her. She has nobody else to love, and so she pours all of her emotion and affection into her lazy, undeserving brother. Harthouse realizes this, and so emphasizes his relationship to Tom in order to endear himself to Louisa.

Book 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

A lonely brother, many thousands of miles away, writing, on paper blotted with tears, that her words had too soon come true, and that all the treasures in the world would be cheaply bartered for a sight of her dear face? At length this brother coming nearer home, with hope of seeing her, and being delayed by illness; and then a letter, in a strange hand, saying ‘he died in hospital, of fever, such a day, and died in penitence and love of you: his last word being your name'? Did Louisa see these things? Such things were to be.

Related Characters: Louisa Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom)
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Thomas and Louisa go through a strange kind of reconciliation. Thomas has been separated from his sister for a long time. He tries to travel to see her, but dies of illness during the course of his trip. Thomas's last words are Louisa's name.

How should we take such an ending? Tom has always been a lazy, loutish character, making his sudden transformation into a loving sibling a tad surprising. And yet the ending is characteristic of Dickens: he sees the best in everybody. Tom has had a sad adulthood, but Dickens remembers a time when Tom was still innocent and sincere in his affections for his sister--as he dies, Tom seems to revert to such a childhood state. Dickens suggests that it's never to late to repent one's sins: so many of the characters in the novel undergo sudden, surprising changes of heart that leave them better, more loving human beings.

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Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) Character Timeline in Hard Times

The timeline below shows where the character Thomas Gradgrind, Jr. (Tom) appears in Hard Times. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 3
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
...But he cannot believe his eyes when he sees his two children, Louisa Gradgrind and Tom Gradgrind, peeping into a circus tent. This circus, by the way, features a horse-rider named... (full context)
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...them away from the circus. Louisa, who is sixteen and a good deal older than Tom, speaks clearly in defense of herself that her curiosity compelled her to get a glimpse... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4
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Mr. Gradgrind returns with Louisa and Thomas, having dragged them from the circus, and indignantly exposes the misbehavior of his children to... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 8
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Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
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Tom and Louisa are at home, moodily discussing their unhappy existence and resenting their education of... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 14
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Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
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Louisa and Sissy have grown into young women, and Tom is now a young man, apprenticed to Bounderby. Mr. Gradgrind's education of facts has not... (full context)
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
...and her brother's musings, who are pondering something now that she is a young woman. Tom in particular hints at something that might soon fall in her path which could do... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 16
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Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
The day of the wedding comes, and Louisa and Mr. Bounderby are married. Tom thinks only of all the advantages he will gain by this marriage, such as how... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 2
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His efforts are finally rewarded when Tom comes home, and Louisa's impassive face breaks into a warm, beautiful smile. Harthouse inwardly takes... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 3
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After dinner, Jem Harthouse takes Tom back to his hotel, and handing him a drink and a cigar, converses with him... (full context)
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Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Tom stumbles home at the end of all this talk, drink, and smoke, and the narrator... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 5
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Stephen joins Mr. Bounderby, Louisa, Tom, and Mr. Harthouse in the Bounderbys' drawing room. Bounderby demands that Stephen reveal details of... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 6
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
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...son 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... (full context)
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Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Tom then does something very unusual: he pulls Stephen aside into a corner, and tells him... (full context)
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In accordance with Tom's request, Stephen hangs around the Bank for about an hour every night before he leaves... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 7
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Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
...of his ungratefulness for all she's done for him, he pledges to try and help Tom out for Louisa's sake. Louisa discourages him as soon as his compliments start becoming improper,... (full context)
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Later, Harthouse meets Tom, and genially tells him that he ought to be more grateful to his sister for... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 8
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...meet Louisa, Mrs. Sparsit, and Bitzer on the path. Harthouse and Louisa both instantly suspect Tom, though neither voices it. Mr. Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit, and Bitzer suspect Stephen Blackpool, who was... (full context)
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Then, long after everyone has gone to bed, Tom finally returns. He finds his sister awake and waiting for him, but upon pleas for... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 11
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Femininity Theme Icon
...be away from home for three to four days on business. Mrs. Sparsit then invites Tom over to her place for lunch that day, and learns that Tom is to meet... (full context)
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That night, she spies on Tom at the train station, and seeing him waiting impatiently for Harthouse at the train station... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 12
Fact vs. Fancy Theme Icon
Unhappy Marriages Theme Icon
Femininity Theme Icon
...rendered speechless by his eldest child's misery. Louisa reproaches him for never allowing her or Tom to exercise their fancy and imagination, which set them up for their current unhappiness. Mr.... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 4
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Femininity Theme Icon
Louisa is at Stone Lodge with Sissy when Mr. Bounderby, Tom, and Rachael call on them. This is no courtesy call: Rachael has been trying to... (full context)
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Industrialism and Its Evils Theme Icon
Mr. Bounderby is 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... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 5
Femininity Theme Icon
...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 huge crowd... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Louisa and Sissy both suspect in their hearts that Tom was the bank robber. He has become Mr. Bounderby's shadow, and doesn't visit Louisa. Louisa... (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... (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... (full context)
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...not eating or speaking to anyone, and emerges looking much older and having realized that Tom is the robber. Sissy then reveals that to save Tom from prison she told him... (full context)
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Tom meets with his family after the night performance. He confesses to the crime and sheds... (full context)
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Tom does agree to their plan for his escape by ship. However, just as he is... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 8
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...must agree with Bitzer, and that 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,... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 9
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...town. Louisa grows gentler and humbler and finds joy in helping care for Sissy's children. Tom dies far from home, having written of his repentance to his sister, but dying during... (full context)