How Does Dickens Show Mr. Gradgrind’s Development As A Human Being As The Story Unfolds?

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Thomas Gradgrind's is the first character to appear in the novel. Immediately from the description of his character we find him somewhat alarming as Dickens paints this image of a man whose "˜eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves' instilling an idea of malevolent emotional vacancy that is accompanied by a "˜voice, which was inflexible, dry and dictatorial'. From this evidence it is quite plain that Dickens's character is not well favoured. To complete this otherworldly figure, Dickens only refers to him as "˜the speaker'; keeping an air of mysticism about him that shortly into the chapter we are shown is highly ironic. As if this is not proof enough we are able to see the true beliefs of Gradgrind as he states "˜In this life we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts.' The use of the forming of the word "˜Facts' with a capital "˜F' is indicative of Gradgrind's association of "˜Facts' being almost godly.

In actual fact, from chapter two it can be said that this "˜doubting Thomas' is like the biblical apostle who disregarded belief in the resurrection as Gradgrind urges his pupils to rely solely on evidence and sight whilst disregarding faith and "˜fancy'. To accompany this vision the first two chapters are titles after segments of the bible (Luke 10:42 and Matthew 2:16). From this it can be said that Gradgrind is a strong handed man, although fair. It could also suggest an oppressive air about him. As if there is not enough basis for this already, Dickens alludes to Gradgrind as an "˜eminently practical father' who "˜had a particular pride in the phrase "˜eminently practical'.

It is not only the direct description that helps the reader formulate a picture of Gradgrind but also by the surroundings that he encounters (or encounter him). Another perfect example of this can be found in chapter three where Dickens describes "˜Stone Lodge' which Gradgrind inhabits as "˜a calculated, cast up, balanced, and proved house'). This "˜statistical den' is presented to show the underlying image of statistical and formulaic framework that Dickens seems so opposed to. To re-enforce this image Gradgrind's garden is described as being "˜like a botanical account book' which is a total contradiction of the freedom that is usually perceived with the association of nature. Another angle of Gradgrind's character also becomes available in the following chapter as we discover Gradgrind outside Mr Sleary's circus. It is quite evident by Gradgrind's disposition of unease about the "˜Fact' that his "˜metallurgical Louisa' and "˜mathematical Thomas were not looking at "˜shells and minerals and things "¦instead of circuses'.

As the first of Dickens' books progresses other prominent depictions of Gradgrinds' war against "˜fancy' become evident. A prime example can be found in Chapter eight where Gradgrind contrasts "˜De Foe' (author of Robinson Crusoe) to Euclid (ancient Greek whom "˜invented' geometry) and "˜Goldsmith' (famous British Playwright) to "˜Cocker', repeating the concept of "˜Fact' versus fiction and the idea of Gradgrind being an automaton without imagination. Although within the space of six chapters we start to find the first real form of definitive change in Gradgrind. This is prompted by his remark to Sissy when he consoles her with the compliment of being "˜affectionate, earnest and good'. It may also be possible to say that what we really find from Gradgrind's comment is the underlying biblical theme of Gradgrind (mankind) being redeemed by the angel-like Sissy.

Gradgrinds redemption however, is short lived as chapter fifteen illustrates the fall of "˜the house of Gradgrind'. With Louisa on what appears to be her breaking point, we encounter Dickens utilising irony and allusion through the mention of a character named Bluebeard, a villain from a child's fairy tale. The depiction of Gradgrind as a classic fairy tale character emphasises Dickens' dislike for the utilitarian and an excellent example of ironic justice. If anything that this chapter draws, it is the concept of Gradgrind being able to understand the human soul.

Little can be said of Gradgrind from the second book as we find him in London working hard at Parliament, even though this book ironically titled "˜Reaping', is where the real change in Gradgrind stems from. This is brought about by Louisa Gradgrind's fall from grace. The apparent irony of the "˜fall' extends to the earlier reference to "˜The House of Gradgrind' that has stand as a symbol of the system, a system that moulded then failed Louisa.

"˜Garnering' is the concluding piece to Hard Times and heralds the return of Gradgrind. Immediately from the first chapter we are shown that the once solid "˜ground' of Gradgrind's system is now unsteady, as it has already suffered Louisa's collapse. This unsteady scene is also accompanied by the sound of Gradgrind's trembling, hollow voice that signifies a form of re-characterization in a man who has been humbled. Although it is also worth taking note that the re-characterization of Gradgrind is not solely negative as we are told that his intentions were to improve his children and not cause them any pain, allowing Gradgrind's character to appear more humane.

As the concluding book in the series progresses the next largest change in Gradgrind's character comes about as chapter nine illustrates a will and determination not seen in Gradgrind before. This is brought on by Gradgrind having to implicate his own son in the robbery of Mr Bounderby's bank so as to free another who was wrongfully accused. The depiction of Gradgrind in such a difficult and shameful position really emphasises the definitive point of change in Gradgrind. This repentance of his old philosophies is furthered as we learn that Gradgrind is to spend many hours in Parliament trying to promote "˜Faith, Hope and Charity' with his "˜Facts' and figures.

Dickens portrays the character of Gradgrind as a total utilitarian figure at the beginning of Hard Times. This image however, is shed fairly rapidly due to Gradgrind's interaction with characters that are associated with fun and "˜fancy'. As if this is not enough, Dickens has Gradgrind's perfect "˜system' fail before his eyes so as to teach Gradgrind humility and the immeasurable effect of emotion.

Geoff Ellis Word Count: 1020