There are many different protagonists in the story “Hard Times” as many of the characters play an important role in the story however the characters that have the greatest influence upon the story line include that of Mr. Gradgrind, Thomas Gradgrind, Louisa Gradgrind, Josiah Bounderby, Stephen Blackpool and Cecelia Jupe. I believe Dickens has chosen the fates of the protagonists of the story by looking at their various characteristics meaning a negative character will have a negative ending and a positive character will have a positive ending.
Louisa Gradgrind is the character to be considered the most influential protagonist of Dickens’ Hard Times. We watch Louisa, Gradgrind’s daughter and human guinea pig, grow from about twelve to about twenty-two years old. Her father, Mr. Gradgrind, raises her to disregard emotions and see everything in terms of facts or statistics. She becomes trapped in a loveless marriage, almost has an affair, and spends the rest of her life trying to learn to be a normal human being with feelings. Every other character is one degree of separation away from her.
There is almost no one that she is not a foil for or a comparison to. She is the female version of Tom (though unlike him, who is universally shown to be a selfish jerk, she seems to have been able to go either way). Louisa is the opposite of the emotionally competent Sissy. To Mrs. Sparsit, Louisa becomes the wife to Bounderby that Mrs. Sparsit doesn’t get to be. We also see that Louisa is ruined by the same system that destroys Stephen Blackpool. She has been taught to abnegate her emotions, and finds it hard to express herself clearly, saying as a child she has “unmanageable thoughts. She simply does not know how to recognize and express her emotions. For instance, when her father tries to convince her that it would be rational for her to marry Bounderby, Louisa looks out of the window at the factory chimneys and observes: “There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out. ” Unable to convey the tumultuous feelings that lie beneath her own languid and monotonous exterior, Louisa can only state a fact about her surroundings.
Basically convinced by Tom, without seeing his selfishness, she marries Bounderby without love or any other positive emotions. While at first Louisa lacks the ability to understand and function within the gray matter of emotions, she can at least recognize that they exist and are more powerful than her father or Bounderby believe, even without any factual basis. Throughout the novel, Louisa Gradgrind learns numerous lessons of life and that “facts facts facts” is not the universal way to approach life.
These lessons not only help her to grow and mature but also change her as a human being. Louisa learns to respond charitably to suffering and to not view suffering simply as a temporary state that is easily overcome by effort, as her father and Bounderby do. Louisa visits the house of Stephen Blackpool after meeting him at Bounderby’s and sees for the first time that the factory workers are human beings. Then during her journey home when her mother was reported ill, Louisa learns about herself.
Louisa realized that she had no childhood memories to make her homecoming a pleasant experience; Dickens states, “As she approached her home now, did any of the best influences of old home descend upon her. The dreams of childhood – its airy fables; its graceful, beautiful humane, impossible adornments of the world beyond … – what had she to do with these? ” Louisa keeps realizing that her father’s school of facts has left her with nothing in place of her childhood. “Her remembrances of home and childhood were remembrances of the drying up of every spring and fountain in her young heart as it gushed out.
The golden waters were not there. ” This is significant because Louisa has now recognized that her father’s philosophy of “facts facts facts” has left her with no emotional experiences which would have created childhood dreams. Louisa is now aware that if she were to live a life of happiness she must begin by living her life guided by her heart, and not by her father’s philosophy of facts. After feeling some emotions towards James Harthouse, Louisa confronts her father on how his corrupted school of facts has left her with no emotional experiences to guide her.
Louisa states, “I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny… 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 don, O father, what have you done .. ” As the scene progresses, Louisa tell her father that the cause of her unhappy marriage is because she had been forced into it: “You proposed my husband to me. I took him. I never made a pretense to him or you that I loved him. I knew, and, father you knew, and he knew that I never did. At this point Louisa has realized what she has been missing throughout her life and these events change her not only as a woman but as a human being. As the novel approaches an ending Dickens gives accounts of a few characters and their turnouts, and he also finishes with a question after giving these accounts; “Did Louisa see this? ” There is no doubt that Dickens prescribed her as the protagonist of Hard Times. All her life she has been “gazing into the fire” “wondering” in the first book we find that she wonders not knowing what it is she is wondering about, in book two with Mrs.
Gradgrind’s death we get the impression that she well will find out as Mrs. Gradgrind says: “there is something wrong” she dies without knowing what it is. It is at the end of book two after Harthouse’s love declaration when Louisa understands the meaning of love, fancy, everything that until that moment her life had lacked. She realizes how immature the decision of marrying Bounderby was, only because of Tom’s insistence). Louisa Gradrgrind is the ultimate protagonist of Dickens’ Hard Times in which the novel may definitely be considered a modified bildungsrosman focusing on Louisa.