In Kokstown live two close friends – if you can talk about friendship between people, equally deprived of warm human feelings. They are both at the top of the social ladder: and Josiah Bounderby, “the famous rich man, banker, merchant, manufacturer”; and Thomas Gradgrind, “a man of sober mind, obvious facts and accurate calculations,” who becomes a member of Parliament from Cockstown.
Mr. Gradgrind, who worshiped only facts, and brought up his children in the same spirit. They never had toys – only study aids; they were forbidden to read fairy tales, poems and novels and generally touch something that is not related to immediate benefit, but can awaken the imagination and has to do with the sphere of feelings. Wishing to extend his method as widely as possible, he organized a school on these principles.
Hardly the worst student at this school was Sessie Jup, the daughter of a circus juggler, magician and clown. She believed that flowers
can be depicted on carpets, and not just geometric figures, and openly said that she was from the circus, which the word in this school was considered indecent. She was even wanted to be expelled, but when Mr. Gradgrind came to the circus to announce this, there was a stormy discussion of Father Sessy’s flight with his dog. Sessy’s father grew old and worked in the arena no longer as well as in his youth; he heard more and more applause, more and more often made mistakes. Colleagues still did not throw him bitter reproaches, but to not live up to this, he fled. Sessi was left alone. And, instead of driving Sessie out of school, Thomas Gradgrind took her to his house.
Sessy was very friendly with Louise, the eldest daughter of Gradgrind, until she agreed to marry Josiah Bounderby. He is only thirty years older than her, “fat, loud, his look is heavy, laughter is metallic.” Louise was inclined to this marriage by brother Tom, to whom the sister’s marriage promised many benefits-a very tireless job in Bounderby’s bank, which would allow him to leave his hated home, which had the
expressive name of “Stone shelter,” a good salary, freedom. Tom perfectly mastered the lessons of his father’s school: good, gain, lack of feelings. Louise from these lessons, apparently, lost interest in life. To the marriage, she agreed with the words: “Does it matter?”
In the same city lives weaver Stephen Blackpool, a simple worker, an honest man. He is unhappy in marriage – his wife a drunkard, a completely fallen woman; but in England a divorce does not exist for the poor, as explained by its owner Bounderby, to whom he came for advice. Hence, Stephen is destined to carry his cross further, and he will never be able to marry Rachel, whom she has loved for a long time. Stephen curses such a world order – but Rachel begs not to say such words and not participate in any trouble that leads to his change. He promises. Therefore, when all workers join the United Tribunal, Stephen alone does not do this, for which the leader of the Tribunal, Sleckbridge calls him a traitor, coward and apostate, and suggests ostracizing him. Upon learning of this, Steven causes the host, judging, that a rejected and offended worker would be a good idea to make an informer. Stephen’s categorical refusal leads to the fact that Bounderby dismisses him with a wolf ticket. Stephen declares that he is forced to leave the city. The conversation with the host takes place in the presence of his household: the wife of Louise and her brother Tom. Louise, imbued with compassion for the unjustly injured worker, secretly goes to his house to give him money, and asks his brother to escort her. In Stephen, they find Rachel and an unfamiliar old woman, who appears as Mrs. Pegler. Stephen meets her second time in life in the same place: at the house of Bounderby; A year ago she asked him whether he was well, whether his master looked good, now she is interested in his wife. The old woman is very tired, the kind Rachel wants to give her tea; so she finds herself in Steven. Stephen refuses to take money from Louise, but thanks her for a good rush. Before leaving, Tom takes Steven to the stairs and alone promises him a job, for which you need to wait in the evenings at the bank: the messenger will give him a note. For three days, Steven waits, and, without waiting for anything, leaves the city.
Meanwhile, Tom, having escaped from the Stone Shelter, leads a rampant life and becomes entangled in debt. At first his debts were paid by Louise, selling her jewelry, but everything comes to an end: she has no more money.
Behind Tom, and especially for Louise, Mrs. Sparsit, the former housekeeper of Bounderby, who, after her husband’s marriage, takes up the post of bank supervisor, is closely watching. Mr. Bounderby, who likes to repeat that he was born in a ditch, that his mother left him, and brought up the street and he has achieved everything with his own mind, terribly flattered the supposedly aristocratic origin of Mrs. Sparsit, who lives exclusively by his favors. Mrs. Sparsit hates Louise, apparently because she is aiming for her place – or at least very afraid of losing her. With the arrival in the city of James Harthaus, a bored gentleman from London who intends to run for parliament from the county of Cockstown to strengthen the “batch of exact figures”, it increases vigilance. Indeed, the London dandy, according to all the rules of art, besieges Louise, groping for her Achilles’ heel – love for her brother. She is ready to talk about Tom for hours, and behind these conversations the young people are gradually converging. After seeing Harthaus alone, Louise becomes frightened of herself and returns to her father’s house, declaring that she will not return to her husband. Sessi, warmth of the soul that warms the entire Stone shelter, takes care of her. Moreover, Sessi, on his own initiative, goes to Harthaus to convince him to leave the city and not to pursue Louise, and she succeeds.
When the news spread about the bank robbery, Louise faints: she is sure that Tom did it. But suspicion falls on Stephen Blackpool: after all, he spent three days on duty with the bank in the evenings, after which he disappeared from the city. Enraged by Louise’s flight and the fact that Stephen was never found, Bounderby around the city pastes an ad with Stephen’s marks and a promise of reward to the one who will betray the thief. Rachel, unable to bear slander against Stephen, goes first to Bounderby, and then, along with him and Tom, to Louise and talks about the last evening of Stephen in Coctown, about the arrival of Louise and Tom and about the mysterious old woman. Louise confirms this. In addition, Rachel says she sent Stephen a letter and he is about to return to the city to make up.
But days go by days, and Stephen does not come. Rachel is very worried, Sessie, with whom she has become friends, as best she can, supports her. On Sunday they travel from the smoky, fetid industrial town of Kokstown for a walk and accidentally find Steven’s hat at a huge terrible pit – near the Devil’s Mine. They raise the alarm, organize rescue operations – and the dying Stephen is dragged out of the mine. Having received Rachel’s letter, he hurried to Cockstown; saving time, went straight. The workers in the crowd cursed the mines that carried their lives and health, being active, and continue to carry away, being abandoned. Stephen explains that he was on duty with the bank at Tom’s request, and dies without releasing Rachel’s hands. Tom manages to hide.
In the meantime Mrs. Sparsit, wanting to show her zeal, finds a mysterious old woman. It turns out that this is the mother of Josiah Bounderby, who did not abandon him in infancy; she held a hardware store, gave her son an education and was very proud of his successes, resignedly accepting his command not to show up next to him. She also proudly reported that the son takes care of her and sends out thirty pounds each year. The myth of Josiah Bounderby from Kokstown, who himself made himself up from the mud, collapsed. The immorality of the manufacturer became obvious. The perpetrator of this Mrs. Sparsit lost a warm and hearty place, for which she so hard fought.
In the Stone Shelter, they experience the shame of the family and wonder where Tom might have gone. When Mr. Gradgrind comes to the decision to send his son away abroad, Sessie tells us where he is: she suggested that Tom hide in the circus in which her father once worked. Indeed, Tom is hidden reliably: it is impossible to recognize him in the makeup and costume of the Arab, although he is constantly in the arena. The master of the circus, Mr. Sliri, helps Tom get rid of the chase. To Mr. Gradgrind’s gratitude, Mr. Slyrey responds that he once did him a favor by taking Sessie to him, and now it’s his turn.
Tom safely gets to South America and sends out letters full of remorse.
Immediately after Tom sailed, Mr. Gradgrind put up posters calling the true culprit theft and washing off the smear stain from the late Stephen Blackpool. A week old, he becomes convinced of the inadequacy of his education system based on accurate facts, and turns to humanistic values, trying to force figures and facts to serve faith, hope and love.