Josiah Bounderby

(Critical Analysis: Form, Structure, Language and  Context)

Dickens satirises the self-made man in this portrait.   Bounderby is, self-referentally, ‘Josiah Bounderby of Coketown’, thereby becoming integral to, and inextricable from, it.   He ‘knows’ the chimneys, the works, the bricks, the smoke, and the Hands of ‘this town’ (3iii).  Even his house is symbolically ‘strictly according to pattern’ (2i).  He is described ironically as ‘a commercial wonder more admirable than Venus’ (3iv), being a ‘banker, merchant, manufacturer, and whatnot.’ (1iv).  Bounderby represents the bourgeois capitalist who is utterly irresponsible in his development of industry.  Most satisfyingly, Dickens delivers the coup de grâce when Josiah Bounderby of Coketown is finally exposed as a fraud.

He is referred to as a ‘bear’ by Harthouse (3ii) and is a ‘bully of humility’ (1iv), who has ‘a moral infection of clap-trap in him’ (1vii).  He denies affection and has no compassion.  He is critical of the workers, thinking they ‘expect to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon’ (1xi).   He is complacent and has no interest in the welfare of his employees.  His rejection of his mother is a clear indication to his character.   His condescending attitude towards is revealed by his using Stephen’s first name and calling him ‘lad’ (1xi).  He laughs scornfully at the circus way of life with a hard, insensitive, ‘metallic laugh’ (1v) and is ‘impatient’ and wholly unfeeling, when at The Pegasus Arms, where he is described as a ‘brute’ (1vi).  He becomes rich at the expense of others, and even describes himself ‘as a maggot in a nut’ (2vii), showing pride in being the worm that eats out goodness.

Bounderby is often described air-filled terms such as: ‘puffed’, ‘swelled’, ‘strained’, ‘inflated like a balloon’, ‘windy boastfulness’ (1iv), ‘blustered (1iv), ‘gusty weather with deceitful calms’ (2v), ‘blowing a gale’ (2v), ‘blowing a hurricane’ (2v), ‘swelling like an immense soap bubble’ (3vii).  His ‘windy reputation’ expands upon lies and deceit (3v).  At one point he ‘discharged [his words] like a Rocket’(3iii), so combining the two manufactured items of guns and the steam engine and, thus, creating an inhuman being.

Gradgrind fruitlessly asks Bounderby to redress matters for Louisa.  His use of the marriage service wording, ‘for better for worse, for -’ (3iii) is not only the author’s ironic reference to Bounderby’s earlier admonishing use of the same words to Stephen Blackpool but also his final critical comment on the marriage laws of the time.   Bounderby’s hubris (pride) leads to his nemesis (downfall), ironically caused by Mrs Pegler’s unwilling revelations; he is said to ‘cut a most ridiculous figure’ who could not look ‘more shorn and folorn if he had had his ears cropped’ (3v).

Josiah Bounderby personifies the Deadly Sins of: avarice, pride, anger, arrogance and gluttony.


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