Compare the characters of Gradgrind and Bounderby in Hard Times.

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Gradgrind and Bartleby are both wealthy businessmen in mid-1800s industrial England who adhere to rigid moral and philosophical ideologies. Gradgrind preaches the power of rationalism and reliance on fact over feeling; above all, he believes that people should always act in their own self-interest. He raises his children, Louisa and Tom, with this philosophy of cold, calculated self-interest. Bartleby's philosophy centers around self-reliance. He continually touts his status as a self-made success who rose to the top of the industrial world after being abandoned by his mother as a child.

Perhaps the greatest difference between these two friends can be found in the way in which they respond when their philosophies are challenged or refuted. Gradgrind's daughter Louisa comes to him in a moment of distress and confesses that she is miserable in her marriage to Bartleby. She also indicates that following Gradgrind's philosophy of greed and self-interest has led her to a life of unhappiness. Gradgrind feels deep regret at the way his parenting has hurt Louisa and begins to reconsider his philosophy. By the end of the novel, he has abandoned it completely; he dedicates the rest of his life to aiding the less fortunate.

Bartleby, however, simply refuses to acknowledge the deceit behind his philosophy. One of Bartleby's employees inadvertently brings his mother to see him. Through this interaction, the reader learns that his mother has not abandoned him; in fact, she has loved and cared for him his entire life. Instead of acknowledging his deceit or recognizing the fallacy of social mobility, Bartleby fires the employee and casts out his mother. Years later, he perishes, completely alone.

Gradgrind and Bartleby contrast each other in their malleability. Gradgrind thrives due to his willingness to reconsider his philosophy, but Barleby suffers as a result of his refusal to change his beliefs.

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