At the experimental private school run by Thomas Gradgrind in Coketown, the children learn facts and only facts. To Gradgrind, there is no purpose for fun, fancy, or imagination in this world. He has taught his own children no subjects related to the humanities, and he has never exposed them to literature. This meant that even fairy tales and nursery rhymes had no part in their upbringing.
When Gradgrind reaches the conclusion that Sissy Jupe, one of the pupils at the school, has been leading his children astray, causing them to be interested in what is going on inside a circus tent, he seriously considers kicking her out of the school. However, after discovering that Sissy has been abandoned by her father, he shows mercy, as best he knows how, and allows the girl to move in with the Gradgrind family.
Later in life, as a result of her emotionless, sentiment-free education, Louise Gradgrind agrees to marry her father’s friend. This is a testament to the fact that she has not been taught to feel or to process emotions.
The subtext of this novel, which goes a long way toward explaining Gradgrind’s approach to education, is the fact that Dickens wrote this classic novel in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, when times were very hard indeed. It was a time characterized by a proliferation of factories and few luxuries—a time when proponents of Utilitarianism like Gradgrind viewed facts as far more valuable than emotions, fun, or theories.