Book One consists of sixteen chapters in which are sown not only the seeds of the plot but also the seeds of the characters. As these seeds are sown, so shall they be reaped.
These chapters, titled "The One Thing Needful," "Murdering the Innocent," and "A Loophole," give the seeds that Thomas Gradgrind sows. He sows the seeds of Fact, not Fancy; of sense, not sentimentality; of conformity, not curiosity. There is only proof, not poetry for him. His very description is one of fact: "square forefinger . . . square wall of a forehead . . . square coat . . . square legs, square shoulders."
In the second chapter, Thomas Gradgrind teaches a lesson as an example for the schoolmaster, Mr. M'Choakumchild, a man who chokes children with Facts. Thomas Gradgrind tries to fill the "little pitchers" — who are numbered, not named — with facts. Sissy Jupe, alone, is the only "little vessel" who cannot be filled with facts, such as the statistical description of a horse. She has lived too long among the "savages" of the circus to perform properly in this school. Here Bitzer, later to show how well he has learned his lesson, can recite all of the physical attributes of a horse.
In the third chapter, some of the seeds that Thomas Gradgrind has sown appear not to have taken root. On his way home from his successful lesson to the children, he spies his own children, Louisa and Tom Jr., peeping through a hole at the circus people of Sleary's Horse-riding. Although he had sown seeds of Fact and seeds of not wondering, there was a loophole: his two children desired to learn more than what they had been taught in the "lecturing castle" or in Stone Lodge. At Stone Lodge, each of the five little Gradgrinds has his cabinets of Facts which he must absorb. Gradgrind scolds his erring offspring, admonishing them by asking, "What would Mr. Bounderby say?" Here one sees that Gradgrind, though retired from the hardware business and a member of Parliament, is aware of the wealth and influence of the factory owner. The reader sees here, too, that Louisa, a girl of fifteen or sixteen, is protective toward her younger brother, Tom.