Summary and Analysis
Consisting of twelve chapters, the second book depicts the harvest — meager for some, abundant for others. Mr. Bounderby, having sowed seeds of unkindness, reaped an unhappy marriage and the loss of his wife; Mr. Gradgrind's seeds of logic and Fact led to disillusionment and destruction; Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby, sowed with the seeds of Fact, reaped unhappiness; for Tom, the seeds of dishonesty produced a harvest of loneliness and destruction; Stephen planted seeds of discontent and reaped ostracism by his kind. Each character reaped a harvest of his own making.
Apparent immediately is Dickens' satire, setting the tone for this chapter and the entire book. It begins, "A sunny midsummer day. There was such a thing sometimes, even in Coketown." Even in Coketown, the rays of sunlight, or reforms, penetrated the smoke and the fog — mistreatment of the workers and the duping of the factory owners. Even in Coketown there had come a time when the laboring class united for self-preservation and education for their children. Not only the workers but also the entire town "seemed to be frying in oil": Bounderby, in the oil of Mrs. Sparsit's pity; young Tom, in the oil of her suspicions; Bitzer, in the oil of her disdain; Louisa, in the oil of destruction. Guardians of the bank by night and spies by the day, Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer were ill-matched companions; nevertheless, they were bound together by Fact. Bitzer, grown from the brilliant student of Fact into a cold young man of self-interest, shared not only tasks in the bank with Mrs. Sparsit but also the desire to undermine the position of young Tom. In this chapter, the reader learns that Mr. Gradgrind has reared a son who is an idler and a parasite.
Introduced in this chapter is another character who is going to be influential in helping Louisa reap unhappiness and in helping Bounderby gather the just harvest of his pretensions. By mistake he meets Mrs. Sparsit first and inquires about Louisa; Mrs. Sparsit's replies pique his interest.