Charles Dickens lived in England during the 19th century, during a period of rapid economic growth when the industrial revolution was in full swing. Industrial cities sprung up throughout England, sustained solely by their factories, which furiously churned out wealth and merchandise and employed thousands of working class citizens. The living and working conditions for factory laborers in these towns were extremely poor, and the wealthy bourgeoisie prospered marvelously by greedily exploiting their employees, unfortunate people who toiled long hours in grimy factories to barely earn their subsistence. Utilitarianism was a prevalent viewpoint during this period of industrial frenzy, for it embraced the values of practicality and
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Gradgrind, addressed to the pupils at his school: "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else." Gradgrind takes enormous pride in being "eminently practical;" a "man of realities;" and he nobly (in his opinion) endeavors to bestow these qualities on the youthful pupils--or rather, to smother them in factual instruction. In short, Dickens gives an unquestionably condemning impression of Gradgrind and the school by depicting their forceful, joyless educational methods in contrast to the innocence and fragility of the children.
Just as Gadgrind rigorously enforces his utilitarian standards in his school, he is equally fervent in adhering to these principles in his own home. He genuinely believes that his ideals are essential to leading a successful, productive existence, and instructs his children accordingly, applying his "mechanical art and mystery of educating the reason without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and affections." Louisa and Tom must absorb enormous amounts of factual knowledge from an early age, while, simultaneously, their father systematically represses and eradicates any notions of wonder or imagination that they might entertain, chiding them, "Never wonder!" Not surprisingly, Mr. Gradgrind seeks through his parental guidance to elicit the same results as in his school--the transformation of children into