Book I, Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

Chapter 8: Never Wonder

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Louisa and Tom sit talking by the fireplace in their study at the close of day. Their unhurried conversation starts and stops, with pauses to gaze into the fire. Tom complains bitterly about his life at Stone Lodge, which he calls a “Jaundiced Jail.”

Tom brings up the subject of his going to live with “old Bounderby.” Louisa asks him if he really looks forward to working for him. Tom replies that “there’s one thing to be said for it, it will be getting away from home.” Louisa repeats this remark, word for word, in a “curious tone.” Gazing at the fire, she tells Tom she has been “wondering about you and me, grown up.” At this point Mrs. Gradgrind intrudes on the scene, complaining that Tom has been encouraging his sister to wonder, “when he knows that his father has expressly said that she is not to do it.”

In the phrase “never wonder” Dickens proposes a link between his characterization of the joylessly regulated lives of Coketown’s workers and what he has so far described of the bringing up of the Gradgrind children. “Louisa, never wonder,” her father once told Louisa when she was younger. The workers of Coketown, those “grown-up babies” (the phrase is meant ironically), are given the same message. They are to “take everything on trust,” to “take everything on political economy.”

But the program of “never wonder,” Dickens believes, faces opposition, whether in Gradgrind’s nursery and classroom or in the larger world that industrialism is bringing about. As an example of how people will wonder, he points to the works of fiction that, to Gradgrind’s consternation, are the most requested books in Coketown’s library: romantic tales and works of fiction that treat human beings and human problems as more than matters of fact and calculation and money in the bank.

Talking with her brother, Louisa can’t stop herself from wondering. Her “unmanageable thoughts,” like those of many young people, circle uneasily around who she is and what her prospects are. There are hints, in her pauses and in the “curious tone” with which she repeats Tom’s words about the advantages of a move to Bounderby’s, of her upcoming marriage to the banker.

Louisa’s love for Tom is evident throughout this chapter. She is saddened because she cannot be a more amusing companion for him. Tom shows some affection for Louisa but is more preoccupied with his plans for leaving home. The difference in their character is further shown by their conversation about the fire. Tom sees nothing in it; Louisa gazes at it and “wonders.”

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