Hard Times

The Triumph of Mr. Gradgrind’s System: Louisa as a Wasteland in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts” (9) pronounces Mr. Thomas Gradgrind in the opening line of Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times. Gradgrind employees this utilitarian philosophy in his schoolhouse and repeatedly reminds the reader that there is no room for idle fantasizing and that nothing matters but Fact. Not only does Gradgrind wield this belief in his school, but it is also the philosophy he teaches his own children within the walls of Stone Lodge. The mechanizing effects of Mr. Gradgrind’s teachings turn these children into true products of the Industrial Revolution—little machines. Gradgrind’s eldest child, Louisa, becomes the central example of the mechanization of people in Dickens’s Hard Times, and she serves as a powerful critique of the coldness and de-humanization of the Industrial Revolution.

Louisa Gradgrind is the central female figure in Hard Times; she strives to suppress her passions and curiosities so she might please her father by living a life led by Fact. Her schooling has been a “mechanical art” (71) that never stooped to “the cultivation of the sentiments and affections” (71). Louisa is repeatedly warned by her father to “Never wonder” and continually reminded of...

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