Gradgrind reacts

Louisa is very anxious to please everyone. She sees the proposal from Bounderby as an opportunity to please her father, this is one of the reasons she adheres to it. She is apathetic about her life towards her father, “While it lasts I wish to do the little I can, and the little I am good for. What does it matter!” She just wants to be a normal girl, which is another of the reasons she agrees to marry Bounderby – she feels it’s a normal thing to do.

Mr Gradgrind sees it as a good thing that Louisa’s feelings are negative and suppressed, “you have been trained well.” There are many points in the chapter where Louisa and her father could have acted differently, “but to see it, he must have overleaped at a bound the artificial barriers he had for many years been erecting, between himself and all those subtle essences of humanity” however “the barriers were too many and too high for such a leap.”

Gradgrind is so wrapped up in utilitarianism that he can not express his love for his own daughter. Louisa repeats “what does it matter” showing she feels so trapped and insignificant. At this comment, Mr Gradgrind “seemed to strike with some little discord on his ear,” recognising that she’s unhappy. He wants to comfort her and talk to her but once again, the barriers of his factual background are preventing him.

At this point, Dickens is highlighting that the utilitarian philosophy has stopped Gradgrind himself from being able to express any emotions. Eventually Louisa accepts Bounderby’s proposal, “let it be so. Since Mr Bounderby likes to take me thus, I am satisfied to accept his proposal…repeat it, word for word…” She is adamantly clear that she is not happy to marry him, but satisfied. She is also clear that she wants Bounderby to know this.

When Gradgrind marries Louisa to Mr Bounderby, a pretentious man who cares for nothing but himself, he does not realise what harm he is doing. Louisa does not want to marry Bounderby; she just wants to add variation to her life. Even their wedding, which should be filled with emotions was solely factual, “the business was all fact, from first to last” Dickens then takes a very satirical approach to ridicule Gradgrind’s arranged wedding, “There was an improving party…who knew what everything they had to eat and drink was made of, and how it was imported or exported, and in what quantities, and in what bottoms, whether native or foreign, and all about it.” He is highlighting how boring these conformed people are and how Louisa doesn’t fit in with them.

It is not only the episodes described above setting Louisa against Gradgrind and his utilitarian philosophy – but also the language that Dickens uses throughout. He uses a satirical approach to Gradgrind. His name alone is a ridicule of his personality, shows the hard, industrial person who manufactures the children grinding the facts into them. Dickens’s reference to him as the “eminently practical” man is also using a mocking tone. The language attributed to Gradgrind is often pompous and reminiscent to the teaching style Gradgrind applies. Louisa on the other hand is given passionate and emotionally complex dialogue and is described more human terms, suggesting to the reader that she is in a genuine struggle to stay alive.

By the end of Book One it is not at all clear how the dynamic between Louisa and Gradgrind will develop, as they have been established as such opposite characters. At the end of Book Two, Mr Gradgrind and Louisa have another meeting, parallel to the first. The chapter, “Down” is set up exactly the same as “Father and Daughter”. However, in this meeting Gradgrind reacts to and treats Louisa differently. Louisa once again expresses how unhappy she is to her father, making it impossible for him to ignore it any longer, “I curse the house in which I was born to have such a destiny…I have almost repulsed and crushed my better angle into a daemon.”

It is here spelt out to the reader that Gradgrinds suppressive ways have completely shattered what could have been a “million times wiser, happier, and more loving, more contented, more innocent and human in all good respects” in Louisa. Eventually Gradgrind “saw a wild dilating fire in the eyes steadfastly regarding him.” Louisa’s unhappiness has got to this extent before Gradgrind even has a glimpse of her suppressed spirit. At the very end of the chapter, Louisa breaks down saying “I shall die if you hold me! Let me fall upon the ground.”

Gradgrind “laid her down there, and saw the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet” Gradgrind has had to watch all of his hard work shatter before him, in the form of his own daughter. This is the ultimate point at which Dickens is criticising the Utilitarian philosophy. It is immensely heartening when Gradgrind capitulates at the end of the novel, as he realises the error of his thinking. However, for Louisa, it is too late and she is never truly fulfilled in the way the reader believes she might be.

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