Chapter 4, "Mr. Bounderby," gives a portrait of this influential man. Described as a "Bully of Humility," he is rich: a banker, merchant, and manufacturer. Although he is forty-seven or forty-eight years of age, he looks older. His one marked physical characteristic is the enlarged vein in his temple. As usual, he is bragging that he is a "self-made man." The reader also meets Mrs. Gradgrind, a pathetic woman who understands little of the world in which she lives. As she listens to Mr. Bounderby's story, the reader can see that he has bored her many times before with his supposedly miserable birth and childhood — born in a ditch, he was abandoned by his mother to the not-so-tender mercies of a drunken grandmother who sold his shoes for liquor and who drank fourteen glasses of intoxicant before breakfast.
When Bounderby is told of Louisa and Tom's grave misdeed of spying on the circus, he accuses Sissy Jupe of corrupting the children of the town and says that she must be removed from the school. Very generously, he forgives Tom and Louisa. As Louisa accepts his kiss, the reader learns that she does not like him. She tells Tom that she would not feel the pain if he were to take a knife and cut out the spot on her cheek that Bounderby had kissed. Jane, the youngest Gradgrind, is pictured asleep, her tear-stained face bent over her slate of fractions.