Charles Dickens, in his novel of social consciousness Hard Times, makes the reader aware
of the social conditions of the industrial workers during the Industrial Revolution in England and the human drama that occurs on all levels of society from the aristocracy to the working class. The themes of utilitarianism, social reform, and educational methods are among the issues addressed in Dicken's novel. Several characters represent various aspects of English society in particular and human society at large in general and represent Dickens' exposure of social ills in hopes of ultimate reform. The character who best encompasses personal asceticism, utilitarianism, and the educational system of the times and the dry, factual approach to education is Mr. Thomas Gradgrind.
In the opening section of the book Thomas Gradgrind is described as a no-nonsense, practical
and pragmatic person. In physical appearance he is described as having an "obstinate carriage,
square coat, square legs, square shoulders". His practical, no-frills approach to life and education was conveyed to his children by his method of dispensing only hard, cold facts. His severe, regimented method neglected the need for reflection and concepts involving art, beauty, and imagination. His sparse, no-frills life-style excluded such extravagances as dance, art, and music all of which he considered frivolous and superfluous. He considered himself as saving Sissy Jupe whom he rescued from what he considered was the decadence of the circus life and trained her in the proper, factual ways of society. However, as the novel and character of Gradgrind develops, he softens his beliefs and evolves from strict adherence to fact to the acceptance and realization of the necessity for imagination and experimentation, which, after all, is how facts are initially developed.
The joyless, rote memorization approach to education and life is also exemplified by Mr.
Gradgrind. His approach to education is as colorless as his...