Background.

Hard Times
  • A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over‘ is a quotation from Hard Times (Book 1, Chapter 2).
  • Hard Times – For These Times (more commonly now known as Hard Times) is the tenth novel by Charles Dickens. It first appeared in weekly parts, published in Household Words, from April to August 1854. The shortest of Dickens’ novels, the story is set in the fictitious northern English industrial mill-town of Coketown.

Context.

Description of Thomas Gradgrind, who believes that facts should underlie everything.

Illustration from a 1876 American edition of Hard Times showing Thomas Gradgrind
Illustration from a 1876 American edition of Hard Times showing Thomas Gradgrind

Theme Analysis: Utilitarianism.

In his portrayal of Thomas Gradgrind, Charles Dickens was parodying followers of utilitarian ideas. Utilitarianism had been pioneered by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832). In short, utilitarianism seeks the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain for the greater good. However the methods in which this is achieved does not necessarily lead to these outcomes at an individual level. In the character of Gradgrind, Dickens highlights his belief that utilitarianism can be seen as selfish, with its rather mechanical approach to weighing up actions. When the lives of two of his own children fall apart, Thomas Gradgrind sees the error of this philosophy. As a result of the characteristics of Thomas Gradgrind, the term Gradgrindian has entered the English language to describe someone having a soulless devotion to facts and figures.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 2 (Murdering the Innocents) of Hard Times:

Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir—peremptorily Thomas—Thomas Gradgrind. 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. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind—no, sir! In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words ‘boys and girls,’ for ‘sir,’ Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Characters.

Thomas Gradgrind.

Thomas Gradgrind is the notorious school board Superintendent in Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise. His name is now used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with cold facts and numbers. He is an intense follower of Utilitarian ideas. Gradgrind’s obsession with facts and lack of empathy blight the lives of his two oldest children, Louisa and Thomas Jnr. He rises to becomes Coketown’s Member of Parliament. When his sees his children’s lives fall into disarray he changes his ways.

  • On screen, the role of Thomas Gradgrind has been played by such actors as Patrick Allen (1977 TV Mini Series) and Bob Peck (1994 TV Mini Series).

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A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over.
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