Failure of Thomas Gradgrind (Hard Times by Charles Dickens)
Thomas Gradgrind is a man bereft of any imagination or fancy, and perhaps that is why he is a staunch believer in the practicality of the education system. He discards wonderment and regards facts and figures as the ultimate path to learning. In the novel Hard Times, the author Charles Dickens has shown Gradgrind as an educationist, and hence has portrayed him implementing his views on both his pupils in the school, as well as on his family. He expects his students to engage in nothing but factual education; and brings up his children on the same principle.
Fashioning his children on the principle of logic, he wants to make model beings out of them, which he may portray to society as examples of a practical nature. But he fails to understand the power of human emotions, or rather their weakness. Ignoring all possibilities of what hope and imagination could bring, into the lives of both himself and others around him, he creates a wall of facts beyond which it becomes very hard for his daughter Louisa and his son Tom to see, which they very much come to want. They get sick of their father’s ‘eminently practical’ ways and long to break free from the environment they are made to live in.
Their desires and wishes are so subdued that they are forced to turn to whatever respite, no matter how little they can get from any source whatsoever. Despite his efforts to implement his theory upon everyone around him, the seed of fancy does not die out in his son and daughter, and is evidently on display in the incident where the siblings are caught peeping in at the fanciful circus which fuels their starved imaginations, but their moment is short lived as they are caught by their eminently practical father who chastises them for their behavior.
In his views, their behavior is astonishing, for such practical children are not expected to be seen paying attention to things such as circuses and other such buffoonery. His views, which he holds in such high regards, fail here as it shows that no matter how much practicality a person is fed with, even if it is up to the brim leaving no room for any thing belonging to another nature, that basic human nature, which is known as, among others, fancy, will find its way through the thickest of books and the toughest of facts, into the minds of human beings, especially those so deprived of it.
And it may as well grow their, positively if it is fed, and negatively, in a manner of frustration and despair, if it is not. Such was the case with Gradgrind’s children that their fancy was gravely trampled upon and not allowed to grow, that their basic human nature of fancy and imagination took on a negative tone of development and brought out in them natures far from what might be considered good. Gradgrind’s forcing upon them his extreme practicality and factual nature brings out the worst in them, as is often the case with youth exposed to the extremities of human psychology.
His daughter Louisa enters into a loveless marriage with the unsympathetic man Bounderby, and becomes an unfeeling and cold person. There is no hope developed within her to help her think about what other prospects might have been open for her; whereas Tom goes astray and disembarks on a path unfit for a gentleman of his stature. There is no imagination in his mind whatsoever to suggest to him another course of being other than the one he has been brought up on, which is also the one he detests, and hence, in desperation, he takes to the only other path he sees before him.
Gradgrind, having firm belief in the sensibleness of his ideas, extends his educational theory to the orphan child Sissy, who is the estranged child of the circus man Jupe, whom Gradgrind, overcome by pity at realizing her prospects as an un-apprenticed orphan, invites to live in his own house, which he relishes in presenting as an example to Louisa as to what becomes of someone who engages in things which do no appeal to the rational side of man.
He provides Sissy with the same logical education he had been fashioning his children and his pupils on, but Sissy is not able to be as practical in nature as her education ought to have made her. She is not able to leave behind her basic nature, one which has bred from a past of reading fairy tales and enjoying the circus, which Thomas Gradgrind so detests. And it is this past, this quality of nature, which ultimately helps his son to escape a dreadful turn of events. Tom Gradgrind, on the other hand, having received an education factual in nature to the core, and without any experience whatsoever in matters
otherwise, goes off course and unlike his father, becomes a man of lesser standards. He enters into gambling and commits thievery. The education tom receives, which teaches him that self interest must rise above every other, is over-done. As a result Tom becomes so selfish that he coaxes his sister Louisa into marrying the rich businessman Bounderby just so that he could mint money for his gambling purposes, and becomes cross with her, when Louisa lands up on the wrong side of her marriage and is not able to fulfill his demands anymore.
His sister is distraught at being treated coldly by her beloved brother, as he is the sole love of her life. He is very efficiently able to hide the crime he commits by playing upon the general suspicion on the poor workman Stephen Blackpool, the suspicion he has facilitated by taking advantage of Stephen’s gratitude towards his sister and asking to keep watch over the bank on the days leading to the robbery, so that the general doubt would naturally fall on Stephen.
Gradgrind is forced to realize the failure of his theory implemented on his children by the embarrassment he suffers at the hands of his son when Tom junior, after his heist at the bank is at the brink of exposure, is in the process of escaping but is stopped short by Gradgrind’s old student Bitzer, who has now become a man of utmost practical bend of mind, who places his teacher’s very theory in his own face.
Bitzer is an unyielding man who gives importance to nothing above self interest, which, as he truly states, was taught to him under the school of thought propagated by Thomas Gradgrind himself. He gives no regard to his former educator, stating instead that self interest and practicality is what he has been taught all his life, and that is what he shall practice. Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa marries Bounderby solely for the sake of her brother.
Neither does she feel anything special towards Bounderby, neither holds anything against him, but agrees to it solely on her brother’s suggestion. To her, nothing in her life is worth getting excited for, as the extreme practical nature of her upbringing restricts her from thinking about things she could’ve possibly engaged in. Her saying, from time to time, “What does it matter? ” suggests that she is so jaded of the system she is a part of, that it does not matter to her what goes on around her, and is devoid of all concern.
Her upbringing and education has been so weak in equipping her with knowledge about human relations of any kind that she is flustered when she is approached by James Harthouse with matters of the heart, and rushes back to her father as she is clueless about what to do about or make of the situation, thus displaying the failure of Thomas Gradgrind’s principles and beliefs on which he has brought his daughter up. This which goes on to show that man’s basic temperament cannot be bottled and filed, thus failing his theory of education being profoundly practical.