The Impact of the System of Education based on Reason on Louisa
Louisa Gradgrind is portrayed as the triumph of the system of education based on reason having been brought up in it from infancy by her father, Mr. Gradgrind. In Chapter 15 of Book the First, Mr. Gradgrind is heard proclaiming rather joyfully how Louisa has grown up to be the very woman he wanted her to be, “You are not impulsive, you are not romantic, you are accustomed to view everything from the strong dispassionate ground of reason and calculation.” Louisa goes on to marry Bounderby in spite of the fact that there was a wide age difference of thirty years between her and Bounderby and more importantly, the fact that the marriage was not going to be on the basis of love. Having been soundly convinced by her father to approach this proposition as she would any mathematical sum, Louisa agrees to marry Bounderby. The marriage is marked by the absence of communication, care and concern as the two people in it were seen to co-exist under the same roof merely as partners in a business deal and not as husband and wife. For the most part of the time, Louisa is left to her own devices to while away time, while Bounderby spends most of his time at the factories.
The introduction of the character of James Harthouse by Dickens is very similar to the introduction of an element in a laboratory experiment in order to affect a change in the status quo. When Louisa meets James and is exposed to his charms, his endearing behaviour and attention, she is deeply disturbed as she begins to experience feelings and emotions that she was not able to understand. When James eventually invites her to run away with him, she does the only logical thing she knows to do and that was to run to her father for answers. The intense and deeply poignant confrontation that she has with her father shatters all illusions for Mr. Gradgrind about the effectiveness of his brand of education.
What she had been harbouring for years, seen in her desire to know what happens inside a circus ring, her habit of staring into the fires for hours, her earnest desire to know what she was to use instead of love in the process of establishing a relationship with Bounderby, results in the outburst that reveals the sad and pathetic state of affairs of her heart and of her entire life. When confronted with such a powerful and overwhelming emotion as love, she was found incapable to understand it and to respond to it appropriately because she has never ever had the opportunity to experience it as a child. In Chapter 12 of Book the Second, Louisa stands before her father almost accusing him of stripping away from her all that could have made her more human with all her imperfections and shortcomings, “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 done, O father, what have you done with garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!”
Even as her father attempts to come to terms with what she was saying, Louisa fires more volleys that completely shatters her father and leaves him shaken as he sees his greatest achievement in life crumbling to dust, “What I have learned,” confesses Louisa, “has left me doubting, misbelieving, despising, regretting, what I have not learned….” And as she sinks to the ground, spent from her emotional outbursts, she delivers the final blow to her father’s educational edifice telling him, “…your philosophy and your teaching will not save me….Save me by some other means!” Mr. Gradgrind is described seeing the “pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet.”
The character of Louisa serves to highlight the damaging impact of an educational system that rids children of the capacity to experience love and to express it in turn. Louisa appears to have suffered deeply from the lack of such a basic human emotion that leaves her hollow and unsure of herself and her emotional responses when confronted with it. Mr. Gradgrind is forced to realise that an education without love is nothing short of turning a beautiful garden into a wilderness. Fortunately, Dickens provides for a way for Louisa to experience love through the children of Sissy Jupe.