“Thomas Gradgrind, sir.  A man of realities.  A man of facts and calculations…With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to.”

At the beginning of Book One, Chapter 2, the narrator offers this description of Mr. Gradgrind to emphasize the dehumanizing way in which he views both his own children and the children in his school. He believes that humanity is quantifiable and that reality is inherently straightforward, both of which lead him to treat others in a particularly harsh manner. This highly-structured worldview is perhaps Mr. Gradgrind’s most defining characteristic early in the novel and sets the tone for oppressive environment in which Louisa and Tom grow up.

‘It would be hopeless for me, Louisa, to endeavour to tell you how overwhelmed I have been, and still am, by what broke upon me last night. The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet. The only support on which I leaned, and the strength of which it seemed, and still does seem, impossible to question, has given way in an instant.’

At the beginning of Book Three, the narrator describes the aftermath of Louisa’s journey home and subsequent rebuke of her father’s stringent way of life. This quotation reveals that, despite Mr. Gradgrind’s rigid worldview, learning of his daughter’s suffering awakens his sense of compassion and empowers him to adjust his perspective. Allowing himself to be vulnerable to the world’s uncertainties shows significant character growth and emphasizes the good that can come from acknowledging the humanity of others.

“Aged and bent he looked, and quite bowed down; and yet he looked a wiser man, and a better man, than in the days when in this life he wanted nothing—but Facts.”

This quotation, which appears in Book Three, Chapter 7, highlights the benefits of Mr. Gradgrind’s changed perspective. Grappling with the reality of his son’s crime, the physical signs of stress that he displays signify that he cares about the wellbeing of others and condemns his son’s behavior. Ironically, Mr. Gradgrind’s broken appearance in this moment reflects his goodness. Had Louisa not persuaded her father to have a change of heart, he would have likely had a very different response to Tom’s selfish crime.