‘Now, what I want is, Facts…. Facts…. Facts…. Facts’ this is how the reader is introduced to Thomas Gradgrind. I myself can picture him saying this poised and stiff with a hard unyielding presence. Gradgrind is described as having a ‘square forehead’, a mouth ‘which was wide thin and hard set’, a ‘voice, which was inflexible, dry and dictational’ and ‘hair which bristled on the skirts of his bald head’. His clothes and poise are like his face, looking composed and collected with a ‘square coat, square legs’ and ‘square shoulders’.
Thomas Gradgrind is a man of no imagination as he only believes in fact, in his school fancy is not tolerated and education rules supreme. Even in his home and with his children Gradgrind believes in ruling and teaching with an iron fist of fact. In Gradgrind’s opinion, to submit to fancy is as bad as committing a crime. Not only is Gradgrind as a whole an inflexible man but the place he lived, Coketown, was also the same.
If Coketown was a person it would take the shape of a man not dissimilar to Gradgrind as it was ‘a triumph of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs.Gradgrind herself’ and like Gradgrind, Coketown was never changing and had always been the same, very practical and always doing its job to the best of its ability. ‘Several large streets all very like one another and many small streets still like one another’. The large streets all very alike, I feel, are symbolic of people like Gradgrind and Bounderby, and the many small streets that are all alike symbolise the children Gradgrind has taught to believe only in fact and not fancy.
These children or small streets are made as miniature representations of the influential and outstanding adults or large streets. Chapter Two is entitled ‘Murdering the Innocents’ and although Gradgrind is not literally murdering his students, he is murdering their innocence by dragging them out of their childhood and tearing to pieces their childish fantasies of monsters and fairies. Yet although Gradgrind’s methods seemed harsh he truly believed that his way of teaching was the best way for his pupils to learn and also the best way for them to stand a chance of having a ‘decent’ future.
He believed in his teaching methods so strongly even his own children were taught in such a way, the only difference being that unlike his pupils Gradgrind’s children have never had the opportunity of having any sort of a proper childhood as from the day they were born they were pre-ordained to live a life of fact. ‘No little Gradgrind had ever seen a face in the moon; it was up in the moon before it could speak distinctively’.