Thomas Gradgrind—a citizen of Coketown, proprietor of a model school, member of Parliament, father of Tom and Louisa.
Mrs. Gradgrind—Thomas Gradgrind’s ailing, complaining wife. She is a victim as much as her children to her husband’s regimen of Fact.
Tom Gradgrind—Thomas Gradgrind’s selfish, ne’er-do-well son, called “the whelp,” employed in Bounderby’s bank.
Louisa Gradgrind—Thomas Gradgrind’s eldest daughter. She is disastrously married to the much older industrialist Josiah Bounderby.
Mr. James Harthouse—a dilettante friend of Gradgrind’s. He makes love to Louisa.
Sissy (Cecilia) Jupe—a tender-hearted pupil at Gradgrind’s school.
Josiah Bounderby—a blustering mill owner and banker who boasts constantly of being a self-made man.
Mrs. Sparsit—a well-born, snobbish but impoverished widow. She is employed by Bounderby as his housekeeper.
Lady Scadgers—great aunt to Mrs. Sparsit.
Bitzer—a model pupil, employed by Bounderby as a porter (and informer). He hates Tom Gradgrind and tries to have him arrested for theft.
Mr. M’Choakumchild—an overzealous teacher in Gradgrind’s school.
Mr. Sleary—the owner and manager of “Sleary’s Horse-Riding,” a traveling circus.
Signor Jupe—Sissy’s father, a melancholy clown in Sleary’s Circus.
Josephine Sleary—Mr. Sleary’s daughter and a circus performer.
Mr. E.W.B. Childers—a performer who is the “Wild Huntsman of the North American Prairies” in Sleary’s Circus.
Master Kidderminster—Mr. Childers’ son and partner, “a diminutive boy with an old face.”
Mr. Slackbridge—the speechifying leader of Coketown’s factory operatives.
Stephen Blackpool—an honest factory hand. He is unhappily married, ostracized by Slackbridge and his fellow workers, and unjustly accused of robbery. He dies after falling down a disused mine shaft on his way back to Coketown.
Rachael—a factory hand. She is a friend to Stephen, whom he would have married had not the law prevented him from divorcing his fallen, drunken wife.
Stephen’s wife—an unnamed, drunken, sub-human woman.
Mrs. Pegler—a mysterious old woman from the country who turns out to be Bounderby’s mother.