Dickens also criticises Gradgrind through the relationship between Louisa and Thomas. In chapter 3 when they are first brought into the plot, they are immediately shown to be contrasting characters. When caught at the circus, Louisa is the one to stand up to her father, “But Louisa looked at her father with more boldness than Thomas did.” She is the one to tell him what they were doing, “wanted to see what it was like…I brought him father…” It suggests that Louisa is not fearful of her father and wants him to recognise that she is rebelling against his system. Louisa has not been manipulated to the same extent as Thomas, “Thomas gave himself up to be taken home like a machine.”Order now
Instead she faces Mr Gradgrind. Dickens is challenging Gradgrind’s teaching methods by bringing in Louisa as a rebel against her strict education, and contrasting her with her brother who has conformed to it. In chapter 8 he shows this further, “Tom, chafing his face on his coat-sleeve, as if to mortify his flesh, and having it is unison with his spirit.” Gradgrind’s ways have completely crushed Thomas’s spirit, leaving him lifeless and dull. When staring into the fire, which “so engrossed her”, Louisa is able to appreciate it more than Tom, “Except that it is a fire…it looks to me as stupid and blank as everything else looks.”
He can only understand its factual purpose, “You seem to find more to look at in it than ever I could find” he says, putting this down to, “Another of the advantages…of being a girl” as his unimaginative mind cannot think of any other reason she can look deeper into the flames. Perhaps Dickens is alluding here to a tendency for females to be more emotional than men. Dickens also uses Louisa and Tom’s body language to undermine Gradgrinds approach to education. Tom is “sitting astride of a chair before the fire, with his face on his arms” where as Louisa, “sat in the darker corner by the fireside, now looking at him, now looking at the bright sparks” Tom, who is his model pupil, has his face in his hands suggesting he has no life left inside him, but his sister looks into the fire, as though she is looking to a light in the future.
Throughout the book, Louisa and Thomas refer to each other as “Loo” and “Tom”, which are not the factual names they were given. Their father calls them “Louisa” and “Thomas”, and chapter 2, Gradgrind tells Sissy off for not calling herself Cecilia. In chapter 8, “Never wonder” Louisa and Thomas are discussed in more detail. Tom is set up as a very selfish, self pitying character, “I am a donkey, that’s what I am…” He’s waiting for Louisa to compliment him. Louisa is very un self-centred and does everything she can for her brother, “think how unfortunate it is for me that I can’t reconcile you to home better than I am able to do…I can’t play to you or sing to you…”
And Tom seems to take advantage of this. He exploits Louisa for his own good. When talking about his methods of “smoothing” Mr Bounderby Tom says to his sister, “it’s you. You are his little pet, you are his favourite, he’ll do anything for you. When he says to me what I don’t like, I shall say to him ‘my sister Loo will be hurt and disappointed, Mr Bounderby’…That’ll bring him about, or nothing will.” And later in Book Two, Louisa funds Tom’s gambling addiction.
The “model” students he creates are not nice people, are selfish and who take advantage of others for their own benefit. In chapter 9, Tom further exploits Louisa when he enters the room and completely ignores Sissy’s crying state, going straight to Louisa, “Because if you come there’s a good chance of old Bounderby’s asking me to dinner; and if you don’t there’s none.” Tom is part of the reason Louisa accepts Bounderby’s marriage proposal. He pressures her into it to make his life easier. During Book One Tom becomes the embodiment of Gradgrind’s teaching.
From the beginning of the novel, Dickens sets up a very false relationship between Louisa and Mr Gradgrind. In chapter 3 it is clear that Gradgrind cannot comprehend Louisa’s feelings and emotions “his daughter stole a look at him, remarkable for its intense and searching character. He saw nothing of it.” Chapter 15, “Father and Daughter” is the main example of them relating to one another. The opening of the chapter sets up a sinister mood, “a deadly statistical clock in it, which measured every second with a beat like a rap upon a coffin lid.” It represents how time for the Gradgrinds is slow and painful.
The repetition of the reference to Death proposes to the reader the idea that Louisa may die emotionally. Dickens then describes Gradgrind’s books as “an army constantly strengthening by the arrival of new recruits,” highlighting that Louisa is fighting against an army of her father’s facts. During the chapter, Gradgrind does not seem at ease with many of the questions Louisa faces him with. When she asks about human feelings her father does not quite know how to react. His mind is unable to recognise the emotions she talks of, “‘do you think I love Mr Bounderby?’ Mr Gradgrind was extremely discomforted by this unexpected question.
‘Well, my child…I – really – cannot…” He speaks with a stutter and does cannot respond. However, when he is able to incorporate facts into his answer, he is again at ease and will go on talking for long periods of time, “as you have been accustomed to consider every other question, simply as one of tangible Fact…it is not unimportant to take into account the statistics of marriage, so far as they have yet been obtained, In England and Wales…” Louisa asks these questions with “great deliberation. She is trying to push him into saying something un factual and to feel something for once, giving her father a chance to redeem himself, after his bad upbringing of her. Eventually she gives up “what does it matter?” Gradgrind does not pick up on any of the chances his daughter is giving him.