- A wealthy, retired merchant in Coketown, England;
he later becomes a Member of Parliament. Mr. Gradgrind espouses
a philosophy of rationalism, self-interest, and cold, hard fact.
He describes himself as an “eminently practical” man, and he tries
to raise his children—Louisa, Tom, Jane, Adam Smith, and Malthus—to
be equally practical by forbidding the development of their imaginations
in-depth analysis of Thomas Gradgrind.
daughter, later Bounderby’s wife. Confused by her coldhearted upbringing,
Louisa feels disconnected from her emotions and alienated from other
people. While she vaguely recognizes that her father’s system of
education has deprived her childhood of all joy, Louisa cannot actively
invoke her emotions or connect with others. Thus she marries Bounderby
to please her father, even though she does not love her husband.
Indeed, the only person she loves completely is her brother Tom.
in-depth analysis of Louisa.
Thomas Gradgrind, Jr
- . Gradgrind’s eldest son and an apprentice at Bounderby’s
bank, who is generally called Tom. Tom reacts to his strict upbringing
by becoming a dissipated, hedonistic, hypocritical young man. Although
he appreciates his sister’s affection, Tom cannot return it entirely—he
loves money and gambling even more than he loves Louisa. These vices lead
him to rob Bounderby’s bank and implicate Stephen as the robbery’s
- Gradgrind’s friend and later Louisa’s husband. Bounderby
claims to be a self-made man and boastfully describes being abandoned
by his mother as a young boy. From his childhood poverty he has
risen to become a banker and factory owner in Coketown, known by
everyone for his wealth and power. His true upbringing, by caring
and devoted parents, indicates that his social mobility is a hoax
and calls into question the whole notion of social mobility in nineteenth-century
in-depth analysis of Josiah Bounderby.
daughter of a clown in Sleary’s circus. Sissy is taken in by Gradgrind
when her father disappears. Sissy serves as a foil, or contrast,
to Louisa: while Sissy is imaginative and compassionate, Louisa
is rational and, for the most part, unfeeling. Sissy embodies the Victorian
femininity that counterbalances mechanization and industry. Through
Sissy’s interaction with her, Louisa is able to explore her more sensitive,
housekeeper, who goes to live at the bank apartments when Bounderby
marries Louisa. Once a member of the aristocratic elite, Mrs. Sparsit fell
on hard times after the collapse of her marriage. A selfish, manipulative,
dishonest woman, Mrs. Sparsit cherishes secret hopes of ruining
Bounderby’s marriage so that she can marry him herself. Mrs. Sparsit’s aristocratic
background is emphasized by the narrator’s frequent allusions to
her “Roman” and “Coriolanian” appearance.
- A Hand in Bounderby’s factory. Stephen loves Rachael
but is unable to marry her because he is already married, albeit
to a horrible, drunken woman. A man of great honesty, compassion,
and integrity, Stephen maintains his moral ideals even when he is shunned
by his fellow workers and fired by Bounderby. Stephen’s values are
similar to those endorsed by
in-depth analysis of Stephen Blackpool.
simple, honest Hand who loves Stephen Blackpool. To Stephen, she
represents domestic happiness and moral purity.
- A sophisticated and manipulative young London gentleman
who comes to Coketown to enter politics as a disciple of Gradgrind,
simply because he thinks it might alleviate his boredom. In his
constant search for a new form of amusement, Harthouse quickly becomes
attracted to Louisa and resolves to seduce her.
lisping proprietor of the circus where Sissy’s father was an entertainer.
Later, Mr. Sleary hides Tom Gradgrind and helps him flee the country.
Mr. Sleary and his troop of entertainers value laughter and fantasy whereas
Mr. Gradgrind values rationality and fact.
is one of the successes produced by Gradgrind’s rationalistic system
of education. Initially a bully at Gradgrind’s school, Bitzer later
becomes an employee and a spy at Bounderby’s bank. An uncharacteristically pale
character and unrelenting disciple of fact, Bitzer almost stops
Tom from fleeing after it is discovered that Tom is the true bank
- The unpleasant teacher at Gradgrind’s school. As
his name suggests, McChoakumchild is not overly fond of children,
and stifles or chokes their imaginations and feelings.
mother, unbeknownst as such to all except herself and Bounderby.
Mrs. Pegler makes an annual visit to Coketown in order to admire
her son’s prosperity from a safe distance. Mrs. Pegler’s appearance
uncovers the hoax that her son Bounderby has been attesting throughout
the story, which is that he is a self-made man who was abandoned
as a child.
- Gradgrind’s whiny, anemic wife, who constantly tells
her children to study their “ologies” and complains that she’ll
“never hear the end” of any complaint. Although Mrs. Gradgrind does
not share her husband’s interest in facts, she lacks the energy
and the imagination to oppose his system of education.
crooked orator who convinces the Hands to unionize and turns them
against Stephen Blackpool when he refuses to join the union.
younger daughter; Louisa and Tom’s sister. Because Sissy largely
raises her, Jane is a happier little girl than her sister, Louisa.