Gradgrind runs a school that focuses on learning as much fact as humanly possible. He has two children, Tom and Louisa, as well as taking in one of his students, Sissy, after her father dumps her.
Louisa grows up and marries a much older banker named Bounderby, who is bossy and deceitful. Louisa does not actually want to marry, but her father weighs the facts and thinks it is a good idea, and in addition to that, it will help her brother in his position at the bank.
Tom is not appreciative of her sacrifice in any way. He is a self-centered gambler, who steals from the bank to cover his debts. Tom tries to place blame on another man,Stephen Blackpool. Blackpool already has many problems, a drunk for a wife, and hatred from his coworkers. Eventually, while trying to clear his name , he leaves town and dies in a mine shaft.
Louisa becomes involved with another loser, Harthouse, who she likes better than her husband. In the end, Louisa tries to leave her husband after it is discovered her brother is the thief, and goes back to her father to berate him for failing to teach his kids important values, and not just facts.
Eventually, Louisa cannot separate from her husband, her brother leaves the country and joins a circus, and Sissy tries to deflect Harthouse from Louisa.