Bitzer is a boy who attends Gradgrind's school. He later becomes a porter at the
bank who spies on the other employees. Bitzer absorbs all the lessons he is
taught about hard practicality. He knows how to succeed by looking after his own
interests; he is all calculation and no heart. Near the end of the novel he tries to
take the miscreant Tom back to Coketown so that he, Bitzer, will be promoted by
Bounderby to Tom's position.
Stephen Blackpool is a factory hand at the mill in Coketown. He has been
married nineteen years to a drunken wife and would like to divorce her, but
Bounderby tells him he will not be able to afford a divorce. Being forced to
endure an unhappy marriage means that Stephen can never enjoy happiness
with Rachel, his long-time friend. Stephen is an almost saintly character who
never speaks ill of others. He is honest and hard-working. But he is shunned by
his fellow workers for refusing to join the union, Bounderby fires him, and he is
forced to leave town to seek work. He is wrongly suspected of committing a bank
robbery. Walking back across country to Coketown in order to clear his name,
Stephen falls down a disused mine shaft. He is rescued but dies soon after.
Stephen Blackpool's wife
Stephen Blackpool's wife is not named. She married Stephen when they were
both young, but she quickly turned to drink. Stephen tried to help her, but to no
avail. She would leave him and then come back many times over. Sometimes
she would sell all his furniture in order to buy drink.
Josiah Bounderby is a rich banker, merchant and manufacturer, and one of
Coketown's most prominent citizens. He is a big, loud, man who expresses
himself bluntly. He also prides himself on being a self-made man, and never
ceases to puff himself up with false humility about his deprived childhood and the
poverty he endured when he was young. He claims that his mother abandoned
him, but it later turns out that he simply made this story up. Bounderby is a hard-hearted
employer who has a contempt for the working classes and mistrusts his own factory hands.
As a poor judge of human nature, he fails to understand Stephen Blackpool's
honesty and good intentions, and nor can he communicate with his young wife
Louisa. Not surprisingly, the marriage breaks down, and Bounderby goes back
to living as a bachelor.
Louisa Bounderby is the daughter of Thomas Gradgrind. As a child she is
imaginative and reflective, but these qualities are stifled by the restrictive
education she receives. Louisa marries Bounderby, even though she does not
love him and he is thirty years older than she. She accepts Bounderby's proposal
largely to please her brother, Tom, whom she loves. As a married woman, Louisa
becomes emotionally withdrawn and cold. However, James Harthouse awakens
tender feelings in her, and this leads to her separation from Bounderby.
Thomas Gradgrind is a prominent citizen of Coketown who later becomes a
Member of Parliament. He thinks of himself as an "eminently practical" man and
believes that only facts and figures are important. He raises his children,
including Louisa and Tom, on these principles, refusing to allow them any scope
for their imaginations. Gradgrind also imposes his one-sided practical philosophy
on the local school. But when Louisa comes to him in distress after the
breakdown of her marriage to Bounderby, Gradgrind realizes the limitations of his
philosophy of "hard facts." He is not by nature an unkind man, and he resolves in
future to live by the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Tom Gradgrind is Thomas Gradgrind's son. Even as a young boy he is unhappy,
and he turns out badly. He likes to manipulate others, especially his sister
Louisa. When he is apprenticed to Bounderby he turns to gambling and runs up
debts. Desperate to find a way of getting himself out of financial trouble, he robs
the bank where he works and arranges things so that Stephen Blackpool is
blamed for the crime. When the truth comes out, Tom is packed off to America by
his father as a way of avoiding the consequences of his crime.
James Harthouse is a young upper class gentlemen who, bored by his life of
pleasure and adventure, attaches himself to Thomas Gradgrind and the "hard
facts" school in parliament. He does not really believe in their philosophy,
however, and gets involved merely to while away the time. After Harthouse is
sent to Coketown he befriends Tom Gradgrind as a way of gaining Louisa's
affections. When his intentions toward Louisa are discovered, and Louisa flees to
her father's house, Harthouse is confronted by Sissy. He reluctantly agrees to
leave Coketown and never return.
Cecilia Jupe, known as Sissy, is the daughter of a circus performer. When her
father deserts her, Sissy is taken in by Gradgrind, but Sissy does not excel at
Gradgrind's school. This is because she is connected to the emotional side of
life, the values of the heart, which are at odds with the school's emphasis on
facts and figures. Sissy's warm-heartedness gives her a strength that enables
her to come to Louisa's aid when James Harthouse disrupts Louisa's life. Sissy
goes to see Harthouse and demands that he leave town.
Mr. M'Choakumchild is the teacher at Gradgrind's school. He has been very well
trained and is very knowledgeable, but his teaching method is to cram his
students full of facts.
Mrs. Pegler is Josiah Bounderby's mother. She visits Coketown just to get a
glimpse of her son, who has always claimed that she abandoned him as a child.
When she finally meets Bounderby, the truth comes out: she brought her son up
as well as her limited means allowed.
Rachel is Stephen Blackpool's long-time friend. Like Stephen, she is
good-hearted and honest, and Stephen is devoted to her. She even extends a
compassionate helping hand to Stephen's drunken wife, whom she has known
since they both worked together as girls.
Slackbridge is the fiery union delegate who gives impassioned speeches to the
workers. At one of these meetings he denounces Stephen Blackpool for refusing
to join the union.
Mr. Sleary is the owner of the circus. He is a good-natured old man who suffers
from asthma, and he is also somewhat depleted by too much drink. Sleary's
philosophy is the opposite of Gradgrind's. He believes that life should not be all
work and no play. Sleary is instrumental in arranging Tom Gradgrind's passage
to Liverpool to escape the consequences of the bank robbery.
Mrs. Sparsit is Bounderby's housekeeper. She is a member of the distinguished
Powler family, but when she was young she made a disastrous marriage and
since then has come down in the world. Mrs. Sparsit is a malicious old woman
who takes a dislike to Louisa, because Louisa usurps her position at Bounderby's
house. Mrs. Sparsit takes great relish in watching Louisa become involved with
Harthouse. She expects this to produce a disaster for Louisa. When Mrs. Sparsit
falsely accuses Louisa of going to an assignation with Harthouse, Bounderby
sends her away and she goes to live with her unpleasant great aunt, Lady Scadgers.