Tom Gradgrind and the impact of the system of education upon him
The impact of the system of education upon Tom Gradgrind manifested in a way that was completely opposite and more pronounced to that of Louisa. While in Louisa it caused her to become somewhat subdued and timid even though she did show signs of a life that was suffocated and oppressed by facts, figures and pragmatism, in Tom it transformed him into a volatile material that could explode at any moment. No wonder, the theme that is connected to Tom is that of gunpowder and explosion. His disgust for the kind of life that his father had chosen to give him is brought out very clearly and tangibly to the fore by the way he treats people, especially those who are the closest to him, and by the way he thinks and acts.
Tom is heard telling his sister Loo that if it was possible for him to collect all the facts and the figures in the world and put them all in one place he would place all the gunpowder he could find underneath them and blow them all up and that would be the end of it all. While he was not able to realise this wish, he does manage, however, to cause a series of symbolic and physical explosions in the forms of revelations and robberies. The symbolic explosions that Tom causes are seen in the startling and shocking revelations he makes that reveal the depravity and callousness that now resides in his being as a result of the education that he has received. He experiences no qualms of conscience as he reveals to his sister Louisa that he was going to use her as a bargaining chip in order to secure a job with Mr. Bounderby and that he intends to continue using her as a weapon and a shield for his own selfish benefits. Later, when he meets with James Harthouse he tells him about the true nature of Louisa’s relationship with Bounderby and how one might be able to get Louisa through him (Tom). He does not even pause long enough to consider the consequences of his actions upon his sister while confiding such intimate and damaging details with a total stranger.
Tom as an adult has fully embodied the name that was given to him by his parents, ‘mathematical Tom’ as he proceeds to view everything before him through the lenses of arithmetic – adding, subtracting and multiplying wherever it benefited him the most. His sister’s marriage to Bounderby, her affair with James Harthouse and Stephen Blackpool’s plight are all viewed through such lenses – manipulated in such a way so that he alone stands to gain from it.
Tom’s character serves to highlight the consequences of imposing a system of education that was lopsided, hollow and amoral to children. Without a moral compass or a way of not only differentiating between what is right and what is wrong and how to choose what is right, Tom can only think and behave in a way that he has been trained to do so – cold and calculative to the core. Even as he senses the ever closing hands of the law upon him, he is still unable to do the right thing and is forced to escape to another country with the help of Sissy Jupe’s relatives and friends at the Circus. Incidentally, it is only when he is far away from home and from the overbearing presence of his father and the atmosphere of Coketown that he is able to feel and to be sad for the loss of his family’s company.