Hard Times Character and Theme Quotes

Charles Dickens

Essential Quotes by Character: Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby

Essential Passage 1: Book 1, Chapter 3

“In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!” said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; “What do you do here?”
“Wanted to see what it was like,” returned Louisa shortly.
“What it was like?”
“Yes, father.”
There was an air of jaded sullenness in both, and particularly in the girl: yet, struggling through the dissatisfaction of her face, there was a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow, which brightened its expression. Not with the brightness natural to cheerful youth, but with uncertain, eager, doubtful flashes, which had something painful in them, analogous to the changes in a blind face groping its way.
She was a child now, of fifteen or sixteen; but no distant day would seem to become a woman all at once. Her father thought so as he looked at her. She was pretty. Would have been self-willed (he thought in his eminently practical way), but for her bringing-up.


Louisa and her brother, Thomas, were raised by her father, Mr. Gradgrind, according to the strict tenants of his philosophy of pragmatism, rationality, and realism. All he wanted was facts, with no room for fancy or imagination. Louisa, however, resisted this upbringing. One day, when accompanied by her equally incorrigible brother Thomas, they stopped to peek through a fence at a circus, where Sissy Jupe’s father worked as a clown. Coming upon them as he returned home, Mr. Gradgrind was shocked that they would stoop to an interest in so fanciful thing as a circus. Louisa, a young girl on the verge of womanhood, stood her ground against her father’s ire. The struggle between her father’s teachings and her own personality is evident in her “jaded sullenness.” She resents the focus on “facts” at the expense of enjoyment and imagination. She is indeed self-willed, despite her father’s beliefs to the contrary. This is an early hint at the inner struggle Louisa will face as a woman, in her marriage and in her relationships with her brother and her father.

Essential Passage 2: Book 2, Chapter 6

For the first time in her life, Louisa had come into one of the dwellings of the Coketown Hands; for the first time in her life, she was face to face with anything like individuality in connexion with them. She knew of their existence by hundreds and by thousands. She knew what results in work a given number of them would produce, in a given space of time. She knew them in crowds passing to and from their nests, like ants or beetles. But she knew from her reading infinitely more of the ways of toiling insects than of these toiling men and women.


Stephen Blackpool, an employee at the local mill, has stood up against the mill owners yet will not join the union. He believes it is wrong to make demands of the owners and against the workers’ common good. Slackbridge, the union organizer, warns Blackpool to join or else face ostracism. Blackpool, not to be bullied by either side, walks out of the union hall and returns...

(The entire section is 1462 words.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Rationalism

Essential Passage 1: Book 1, Chapter 1

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to the Facts, sir!”


Thomas Gradgrind operates a school founded on the philosophy of rationalism. Only that which is provable by observation and personal experience is real. The realms of imagination and faith are worthless and must be avoided. Personal preference counts for nothing. Only the utility of a thing or concept gives it value. Gradgrind is demonstrating to Mr. Bounderby the efficacy of his school’s philosophy by having an academic presentation. Sissy Jupe bears the brunt of his insistence of facts. While her explanations concerning horses and carpets run into the realms of fancy and personal preference, Gradgrind repeatedly condemns her and humiliates her in front of the school for doing so. Gradgrind states that not only does he utilize this philosophy in the education of his students, but he also makes it the foundation for the rearing of his own children. This admission will have significant consequences in the outcome of the story, especially concerning his daughter, Louisa.

Essential Passage 2: Book 2, Chapter 12

“How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!”
She struck herself with both her hands upon her bosom.
“If it had ever been here, its ashes alone would save me from the void in which my whole life sinks. I did not mean to say this; but, father, you remember the last time we conversed in this room?”
He had been so wholly unprepared for what he heard now, that it was with difficulty he answered, “Yes, Louisa.”
“What has risen to my lips now, would have risen to my lips then, if you had given me a moment’s help. I don’t reproach you, father. What you have never nurtured in me, you have never nurtured in yourself; but O! if you had only done so long ago, or if you had only neglected me, what a much better and much happier creature I should have been this day!”
On hearing this, after all his care, he bowed his head upon his hand and groaned aloud.
“Father, if you had known, when we were last together here, what even I feared while I strove against it—as it has been my task from infancy to strive against every natural prompting that has arisen in my heart; if you had known that there lingered in my breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses capable of being cherished into strength, defying all the calculations ever made by man, and no more known to his arithmetic than his Creator is,—would you have given me to the husband whom I am now sure that I hate?”
He said, “No. No, my poor child.”


Louisa has developed a close relationship with James Harthouse, who is in fact trying to seduce her. Having met her in the woods, James tries to persuade her to leave her husband and elope with him. Leaving her there in the woods, he...

(The entire section is 1630 words.)