It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but not all the calculators of the National debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions.
This passage, from Book the First, Chapter 11, provides
insight into the narrator’s beliefs and opinions. Dickens’s omniscient
narrator assumes the role of a moral guide, and his opinion tends
to shape our own interpretations of the story. Here, we learn that
the narrator disagrees with Gradgrind, believing instead that human
nature cannot be reduced to a bundle of facts and scientific principles.
The narrator invokes the mystery of the human mind, pointing out
how little we actually know about what motivates the actions of
our fellow beings. The “quiet servants” to whom the narrator refers
are the factory Hands. In representing these people as an unknown quantity,
the narrator counteracts Bounderby’s stereotypes of the poor as
lazy, greedy good-for-nothings. While he suggests that we need to
understand these people better, the narrator also implies that this
knowledge cannot be attained through calculation, measurement, and/or
the accumulation of fact.