Bitzer 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.