THOMAS GRADGRIND

(Critical Analysis Form Structure Language Context)

Gradgrind – a satirical and ironic protrait

Gradgrind’s philosophy is Utilitarianism where the principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people actually becomes – certainly in the novel at least – the happiness and prosperity for the middle classes.  Having practically retired from the wholesale hardware trade, he becomes a Member of Parliament and thereby one of the ‘deaf … dumb … blind … lame … dead honourable gentlemen.’ (1xiv) in ‘the national dustyard’, ‘sifting and sifting at his Parliamentary cinder heap’ (2ix).  Thus, the character portrayal is a satirical presentation of politicians.  However, it is also a satire of industrialists – ‘the Hard Fact men’ (3v) – and their principles that denied compassion, the emotions and even basic needs.

Harthouse refers to him as a ‘machine’.  He sees life in terms of quantity and omits the imagination, emotions and poetry of life.  The  description of his home ‘Stone Lodge’ which has ‘ a very regular feature’ (1iii) and where ‘life … went monotonously round like a piece of machinery which discouraged human interference’ (1ix) is highly symbolic and imbued with metaphorical meaning.   Gradgrind works ‘according to the system’ (1iii) ‘with his little mean exercise rod’ and ‘stiff-legged compasses’ (3i), being ‘eminently practical’ (1iii) and having an ‘eminently practical way’ (1xiv).  He is a ‘man of realities.  A man of facts and calculations’ (1ii), who supposes ‘the Head to be all-sufficient’ and who proceeds to ‘annihilat[e] the flowers of existence’ (3i).  His physical description is also symbolic: he has a: ‘Square wall of a forehead’ and square coat, legs, shoulders (1i) and finger (1ii) and lives in a square house with a garden ‘all ruled straight’ (1iii). His mouth is ‘hard set’.

He deals with the solution to Sissy’s personal difficulties at the beginning of the novel, in an Utilitarian manner, ‘like a sum’ and later even buries his wife ‘in a business-like manner’ (2x).  In his room with its ‘deadly-statistical clock’, ‘complicated social questions were cast up, got into exact totals, and finally settled’ (1xv).  He erects ‘artificial barriers … between himself and all those subtle essences of humanity’ (1xv).

However, this finally proves to be a compassionate protrait: ‘he is not unkind’ (1v) and he is ‘surprised’ (1xv) by Louisa’s reaction to Bounderby’s proposal of marriage.  Later, he begins to see the inadequacy of his philosophy, realising that ‘some persons hold .. that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart.’   He bears the responsibility for his system’s ‘failures’, recognises that some of Louisa’s ‘qualities’ ‘have been harshly neglected’, knows that he has been ‘not quite right’ in her education and that his ‘system’ is difficult to apply ‘to girls’ (3iii)!  Louisa, herself, recognises his ‘contrition’ (3i) but, humorously, Bounderby regards it as ‘sentimental humbug’ (3iii)!  The Stone Lodge is later significantly called ‘The Lodge’(3v) and he looks ‘a wiser man and a better man’ (3vii).  Finally, Gradgrind makes ‘his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity, and becomes ‘much despised by his ‘late political associates … who owe no duty to an abstraction called a People’ (3ix).

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