Charles Dickens’ Hard Times presents the story of the Gradgrind family and how they adjust to the patriarch Thomas Gradgrind’s strict, rigid belief system. Interestingly, every member of the family grows and evolves as the novel progresses. Early in the novel, for example, Thomas Gradgrind is a staunch Utilitarian who refuses to view problems in an imaginative way. He emphasizes facts to a destructive degree. After he sees how his destructive ideology has affected his children, specifically Louisa, however, he changes and grows as a character:
“Aged and bent he looked, and quite bowed down; and yet he looked a wiser man, and a better man, than in the days when in this life he wanted nothing but Facts” (205).
Tom, Mr. Gradgrind’s son, becomes a bitter individual as the text progresses. He starts out with a strong bond with his sister, but by the end of Hard Times, he is a self-centered individual who wants nothing to do with Louisa:
“Pretty love! Leaving old Bounderby to himself, and packing my best friend Mr. Harthouse off, and going home, just when I was in the greatest danger. Pretty love that! Coming out with every word about our having gone to that place, when you saw the net was gathering round me. Pretty love that! You have regularly given me up. You never cared for me” (213).
Louisa, meanwhile, always struggled under her father’s oppressive values. Her character changes completely after she marries Josiah Bounderby. She is hopelessly depressed, and she ultimately leaves Bounderby. However, the final passage that focuses on Louisa ends on a dissonant note. She has been irreparably affected by Utilitarianism:
“Herself again a wife—a mother—lovingly watchful of her children, ever careful that they should have a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body, as knowing it to be even a more beautiful thing, and a possession, any hoarded scrap of which, is a blessing and happiness to the wisest? Did Louisa see this? Such a thing was never to be” (222).
Finally, Sissy Jupe grows from a timid girl to a self-assured woman. She receives the happy ending that Louisa is denied, and she has a loving, caring family at the end of the tale.
Thus, all of these characters do in fact evolve in some manner throughout Hard Times.
I pulled my textual evidence from the Norton Critical Edition, 3rd ed.