BOOK THE THIRD
Tom has slipped away from the crowd surrounding Stephen. When Gradgrind returns home, he sends for his son, but Bounderby reports that the boy has disappeared.
Gradgrind promises Bounderby that he will soon prove Stephen's innocence, then locks himself in his office, refusing company or food. He emerges the next morning looking older, but somehow is a "wiser" and "better" man.
Feeling certain that Tom robbed the bank, Louisa and Gradgrind wonder how to find him. It is Sissy who provides the answer. At the site of Stephen's accident, she whispered in Tom's ear a suggestion that he escape to Sleary's circus and told him how to find it. She promised that Sleary would hide him until she arrived. From there Tom could be sent to a safe, distant place.
Sissy and Louisa travel to the circus together, with Gradgrind using a different route to avoid Bounderby's suspicions. The two women journey all night, arriving in time to sit through the show as they await Sleary.
Sleary, Sissy, and the performers have a joyful reunion. Louisa asks about Tom, and Sleary takes her and Sissy to a peephole to watch one of the acts in progress. Among the characters performing are two servants in black makeup. One of them is Tom. Sleary tells the visitors to return with Gradgrind after the show.
Hours later, Sleary ushers Gradgrind, Louisa, and Sissy into the tent. Gradgrind sits on a clown chair. On a back bench, still in a ridiculous costume and wearing black makeup, sits Tom, as sullen as ever.
Dickens milks the scene for every last bit of irony. Tom is discovered in the very place we met him- at Sleary's Horse-riding. But now he is a lowly performer, wearing silly clothes and comic makeup. The dignified Gradgrind sits ludicrously in a clown's chair. The troupe that he once looked on with disapproval and condescension has saved his son from arrest. Unlike the coincidence of Stephen falling into a coal mine, this scene is applauded by most readers as both plausible and moving. Why do you think many find it to be so effective?
Gradgrind is saddened that his "model" son should be brought to this. Tom admits with typical bad temper to stealing the money. But he doesn't think his father should be surprised. Don't the percentages suggest that a certain number of people in trustworthy positions will turn out to be dishonest?
Tom is throwing into his father's face all that he has been taught by him. How do you feel about Gradgrind here? Is he getting what he deserves? Or have you come to see him as less evil and more misguided?
Gradgrind tells Tom that he must be sent out of the country. Tom agrees; he can't be more unhappy than he is right now. Sleary has a plan to sneak him out of town disguised as a carter (a country farmhand).
When Louisa tries to embrace him, Tom turns on her, accusing her of betraying him when he needed her most. Louisa is devastated.
Just as Tom is about to escape, the dreadful Bitzer appears! He's tracked them down, refusing to be outsmarted by circus people. He grabs Tom by the collar and won't let him go.
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© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.