‘I was tired, father. I have been tired a long time,’ said Louisa. ‘Tired?  Of what?’ asked the astonished father. ‘I don’t know of what—of everything, I think.’

When Mr. Gradgrind finds Louisa and Tom outside of the circus at the end of Book One, Chapter 3, they argue about why the children felt compelled to visit an attraction that had no basis in fact. Louisa’s admission that she “was tired” suggests that, even as a young girl, she can sense that her family’s strict lifestyle is unfulfilling. She cannot genuinely express her feelings in this moment, however, because she has been unable to learn how to effectively put them into words. 

“For the first time in her life Louisa had come into one of the dwellings of the Coketown Hands; for the first time in her life she was face to face with anything like individuality in connection with them…But she knew from her reading infinitely more of the ways of toiling insects than of these toiling men and women.”

This scene, which occurs in Book Two, Chapter 6, serves as a key moment in Louisa’s character development as it shows her ability to display compassion towards strangers. Although she cannot quite put a name to what she feels, she acknowledges Stephen’s struggles and admires his pursuit of a life of purpose. The fact that Louisa is only now beginning to see the humanity in others, however, emphasizes just how tight a hold her father’s narrow-minded teachings have on her own worldview.

“It was even the worse for her at this pass, that in her mind—implanted there before her eminently practical father began to form it—a struggling disposition to believe in a wider and nobler humanity than she had ever heard of, constantly strove with doubts and resentments.”

A major component of Louisa’s character development revolves around her struggle to reconcile her compassionate, humanistic instincts with the rigid and self-serving practices that her family forced upon her as a child. As Mr. Harthouse explains his own philosophy that everything is meaningless in Book Two, Chapter 7, she begins to have even more doubts about whether the noble world she senses can ever exist. This tension ultimately contributes to her journey home and rejection of her father’s fact-based teaching.