The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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2012/13 Group Reads - Archives > North and South - Part III

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message 1: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
The discussion for the following chapters should be placed here:

Chapter XXVIII - Comfort in Sorrow
Chapter XXIX - A Ray of Sunshine
Chapter XXX - Home at Last
Chapter XXXI - Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot
Chapter XXXII - Mischances
Chapter XXXIII - Peace
Chapter XXXIV - False and Time
Chapter XXXV - Expiation
Chapter XXXVI - Union Not Always Strength
Chapter XXXVII - Looking South
Chapter XXXVIII - Promises Fulfilled

I'm a bit behind with my reading so I'll be posting my thoughts some time tomorrow along with discussion questions. Here's one question to get your thoughts moving in the meantime:

Workers needed unions to fight for workers rights. Workers then are treated better. Is there still a need for a union after that? Do the owner's get complacent and start taking advantage of their workers again, creating the need for a union again? Give us your opinion.


message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments Despite Frederick’s initial aid in caring for his mother, upon Mrs. Hale’s death Margaret “became as a strong angel of comfort to her father and brother” (chapter 30). Mr. Hale and Frederick depend on Margaret: “while they were giving way to grief, she must be working, planning, considering. Even the necessary arrangements for the funeral seemed to devolve upon her.”The default of work and stability again falls to the women, in this case Margaret and Dixon.

I am curious about Frederick’s role in the novel; his presence is mostly offstage, alluded to by Margaret and Mrs. Hale, until he appears to see his dying mother, and he introduces a context that extends beyond England. He is also the source of Margaret’s shame when she lies to Inspector Watson about being at the station when Leonards was pushed off the platform. What I find most interesting is that she feels less remorse over what God would say than what Thornton thinks of her: “nothing but chaos and night surrounded the one lurid fact that, in Mr. Thornton’s eyes, she was degraded” (chapter 34). This is a rather striking divergence from the stereotypical nineteenth-century woman yet is par for the course for Margaret, who is repeatedly shown to be free-thinking and intelligent in a man’s realm. She insists on going to her mother’s funeral with her father. Although she says that women of the Hales’ class don’t go to funerals “because they have no power over their emotions, and yet are ashamed of showing them” while poor women do go and don’t care about showing their grief (chapter 33), it is apparent that she is able to exhibit surprising power over her emotions. I attribute this in part to the fact that she often has to assume her father’s duties and be the stabilizing force in the home.

Gaskell contrasts this quality with an almost angelic aspect of Margaret; in essence, she saves Nicholas Higgins from himself by entreating him to have tea with her father instead of drowning his sorrows in drink, and she later reaches out to Mrs. Boucher. Mr. Hale, too, appears in a better light, for he “treated all his fellow-creatures alike: it never entered into his head to make any difference because of their rank” (chapter 28). This seems to indicate that there is hope for the relationships in and the industrial nature of Milton. Mr. Hale points out that the masters think that they are only connected to workers through their trade (as opposed to Thornton, who believes that he should not be concerned with the workers outside the confines of the mill) and that the masters are only concerned with instructing workers in the “science of trade” (chapter 28). Perhaps this is a commentary on the role of education; masters need to be more “educated” about the humanity and the lives of their workers, while the workers perhaps need to understand the mathematics of supply and demand. As Nicholas Higgins says, the strike failed because the workers expected too much out of their fellow men and thought that the Irish would be sympathetic toward their plight; the mob action of workers like Boucher doomed them, and their calculations were based on “false premises.” Higgins points out that men must not look down upon other men but teach them patiently, and that their only hope is to stand united in a common interest and to rely on strength in numbers—clearly utilitarian concepts. Unfortunately, this philosophy inevitably means that not everyone will get what they want, and that one side must fail, as the workers have failed here. However, I still think that there is hope because the chapter ends thus: “Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm.”

The overall message seems to be that disagreeing parties can come together peacefully for a common goal and with humanitarian understanding in spite of their differences. Margaret says as much when she muses that if Nicholas Higgins and Mr. Thornton spoke “man to man” rather than worker to master, and “if Mr. Thornton would be patient enough to listen to him with his human heart, not his master’s ears—” (chapter 37). It seems that Mr. Thornton is not ready to change yet, however, in spite of Higgins’ promise not to incite trouble and to take any problems directly to Thornton—a heady concession coming from the proud former Union leader. Just as Higgins was changed by Margaret and the death of his daughter, so to it seems that Thornton will have to suffer loss in order to see past his own prejudices and become a more compassionate master.


message 3: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Deborah wrote: Workers needed unions to fight for workers rights. Workers then are treated better. Is there still a need for a union after that? Do the owner's get complacent and start taking advantage of their workers again, creating the need for a union again? Give us your opinion

We see employers abusing their powers again today and many of the rights that workers have fought for are gradually being eroded - shorter working weeks/days, sick pay, holiday pay etc. Workers will always need to protect their rights by 'combining' because employers will always exploit them if they are allowed by law to do so.


message 4: by ☯Emily (new)

☯Emily  Ginder I heard someone say a few years ago that Margaret Hale is the strongest, most heroic, yet sympathetic, heroine in 19th literature fiction. Would anyone else agree with that assessment?


message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments ☯Emily wrote: "I heard someone say a few years ago that Margaret Hale is the strongest, most heroic, yet sympathetic, heroine in 19th literature fiction. Would anyone else agree with that assessment?"

Although I haven't finished the book, I would probably agree. Margaret has flaws, of course, yet she is quite versatile. She is willing to amend her prejudices, and she stands up for the poor and the workers at risk to herself. Her exposure to both the southern and northern cultures gives her a unique perspective, and her own losses and hardship provide her with an experience that helps her to relate to those less fortunate. She is also surprisingly intelligent on matters which would have been considered the realm of men during that time period, and her insight is both important and crucial to the plot.


message 6: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments ☯Emily wrote: "I heard someone say a few years ago that Margaret Hale is the strongest, most heroic, yet sympathetic, heroine in 19th literature fiction. Would anyone else agree with that assessment?"

She is one of my favorite heroines, together with Esther Summerson from Bleak House


message 7: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
Sarah wrote: "Despite Frederick’s initial aid in caring for his mother, upon Mrs. Hale’s death Margaret “became as a strong angel of comfort to her father and brother” (chapter 30). Mr. Hale and Frederick depend..."

Nice analysis. I think Gaskell's point in the majority of the book is the contrasts between Fanny and Margaret, Frederick and the other sailors on his ship, Mr. Hale and other preachers, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Thornton; the list could go on. I keep seeing both sides of the coin through this comparisons and contrasts. Each side has its failings and communication issues (miscommunication most often).

I don't think Margaret worries about what God will think about Leonards because of her fear for Frederick. I also think Gaskell is using her concern about Mr. Thornton as a way of showing us Margaret's changing heart associated with him.


message 8: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
☯Emily wrote: "I heard someone say a few years ago that Margaret Hale is the strongest, most heroic, yet sympathetic, heroine in 19th literature fiction. Would anyone else agree with that assessment?"

Since I haven't read all of 19th century literature, I cannot say she is the strongest. However, I think she is an excellent character of a strong woman. I have really enjoyed her. We are admiring her strength through our modern day eyes. Just imagine how the 19th century women might have felt reading about her.


message 9: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
I'm finally caught up with my reading. My apologies for the delay, but it seems the discussion has gotten off to a great start. I had almost forgotten about Edith until the letter arrived. Once again it's filled with typical "women's topics". It is interesting to me that Margaret clearly sees it as fluff.

What do you think about Mrs. Hale requesting the help of Mrs. Thornton where Margaret is concerned?

How do the deaths in the households mirror or contrast each other? (We have Bessie Higgins, Mrs. Hale, and then Mr. Boucher).

How do the life experiences of the characters change them?

Were women and children part of the union? If so, why are they not depicted as part of the strike other than as starving dependents?

The master is called tyrannical in a few passages. The union is as well. Do you think this is a fair depiction of both?


message 10: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
For me, I'm really enjoying the comparisons/contrasts of both sides of the story. There have been many times in my life where I can see both sides clearly which can make for a challenging decision making process. A lot of times there is no right answer.

I enjoy Margaret's strength. As Sarah points out, she is once again put into the position of being the rock of the family. Everyone crumbles around her, and she quietly tries to hold it all together. Anybody want to discuss what that must be like for her as a person?

I loved the fact that Gaskell makes Mr. Hale a character that sees people for who they are and not just a class perspective. Very groundbreaking for the time. This is only the second book of Gaskell's that I have read, and I've loved both of them. I'm truly looking forward to the next one.


message 11: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "What do you think about Mrs. Hale requesting the help of Mrs. Thornton where Margaret is concerned?"

I'm not sure, but I interpreted this in relationship to the newly-formed and newly-strengthened bond between Margaret and her mother. The narrator tells us that after living with Edith and her aunt for several years, Margaret had understandably grown apart from her mother. It seemed that they were just reconnecting on a deeper level when Mrs. Hale developed her terminal illness, so I assumed that she wanted to know that someone would look after her daughter once she was gone. I especially thought that this could be the case given Mr. Hale's rather lax nature and the fact that the brunt of their burdens fall on Margaret.


message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "How do the deaths in the households mirror or contrast each other? (We have Bessie Higgins, Mrs. Hale, and then Mr. Boucher)."

Bessy and Mr. Boucher's deaths are both the result of the mills--Bessy's directly by being exposed to the "fluff" and Mr. Boucher's indirectly by losing his job during the strike and thereby falling victim to crushing depression and desperation. As for Mrs. Hale, we aren't told exactly what her illness was (some have speculated that it was cancer, and that makes sense to me); it may or may not have been caused or exacerbated by the move to Milton and the polluted air. Either way, all three deaths affect Margaret and force her to act on behalf of the deceased's family--in her own case, meaning her father and brother. In that way, the deaths are formative for her and also serve as a means to get her involved more fully in the strike and in the situation with the mills in general.


message 13: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "Were women and children part of the union? If so, why are they not depicted as part of the strike other than as starving dependents?"

"The master is called tyrannical in a few passages. The union is as well. Do you think this is a fair depiction of both? "


I was under the impression that the women and children would necessarily be part of the strike because they too are employed by the mills, although Gaskell doesn't depict them during the confrontations. I guess that this is where Margaret comes in again as the proverbial "voice for the voiceless." Perhaps Gaskell didn't want to involve the women and children in the nastier aspects of the strike, or perhaps during that time period these groups wouldn't have been involved with the strike on the front lines...

As for the tyrannical description of the master and the Union, I personally think that it is mostly accurate. For instance, Thornton is not willing to make any concessions or even to listen to his workers' complaints, which sounds like a dictatorship; he thinks that he can just replace them with another group who will do what he wants them to do at the price that he sets. The Union, while seeming to be slightly less dictatorial, comes across as a tyranny also. It seems that perhaps if the confrontation between the workers and Thornton had been avoided, the Union may have made headway, but nevertheless, they didn't seem willing to compromise either in their demand for better wages. I think that the key word here, as with all such situations even today, is "compromise." That is what differentiates between tyranny and cooperation, at least in this situation.


message 14: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
I, too, think that unions and owners both can be tyrannical in different ways. With regard to the deaths in each house, what I saw was:

Bessie - died due to unhealthy working conditions
Boucher - died due to despair due to lack of work
Mrs. Hale - died of unknown causes

It seemed to me that Gaskell was showing us that death comes to each of us regardless of reason or cause. No person or family is immune to losses of this type. Therefore, how are we different from each other (i.e. class, education, etc.)? None of that matters.


message 15: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "It seemed to me that Gaskell was showing us that death comes to each of us regardless of reason or cause."

Death--the great equalizer!


message 16: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments So, as an author, how well does Gaskell treat the subject of death? For example, how would you compare her with the Brontes, who personally knew death up close and viscerally so well, on the subject?

Does Mrs. Hale's death free Mr. Hale in any sense, or leave him floundering? Or is this just Victorian times -- death is a very present reality.

Sarah suggests Bessie's and Mrs. Hale's deaths are formative for Margaret. Was Margaret portrayed as able to grieve adequately or did she simply move to doing -- and that was all right, perhaps necessity, perhaps expected, perhaps motivating?

Are these even right questions to be asking? I don't believe I really have asked them of the novel myself.


message 17: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
Lily - Good questions. I do think that while Gaskell tries to capture the grief appropriately, it feels as if it is written with a little bit of distance as compared to the Brontes.

I think loss of loved ones always changes a person. Margaret definitely had to show some impact. While it being formative, I'm not convinced of that.


message 18: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 24, 2013 03:00AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Because of the high mortality rates, the Victorian era was marked by excessive morbidity towards death but by the time Gaskell was writing N&S, mortality rates had fallen and there was a move towards a less emotional approach to death. There was also a difference in attitudes towards death between the North and the South because northerners were (are) less inclined to display their emotions than southerners. I think perhaps Gaskell is reflecting this change in the Hale family.


message 19: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1870 comments Mod
Zulfiya wrote: "☯Emily wrote: "I heard someone say a few years ago that Margaret Hale is the strongest, most heroic, yet sympathetic, heroine in 19th literature fiction. Would anyone else agree with that assessme..."
I agree that Margaret is remarkable, both as she is one of the strongest and most intelligent characters in the novel and also as she is clearly attractive and feminine. Collins did something similar with Valeria in The Law and the Lady although he divided the roles into intelligent, strong Marian and lovely Laura in The Woman in White. It is also interesting that she seems to have gained the positive characteristics of the two mothers in this book whereas poor Fanny seems to be completely lacking in admirable traits.


message 20: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1870 comments Mod
I was fascinated by the extreme importance Margaret has placed on being caught out in a lie. This is clearly much worse to her than being suspected of having an illicit meeting with a man, and she feels degraded and shamed by having had to lie, even though most would have considered her entirely justified in doing so. Now that her brother is safely away from England I am surprised she hasn't explained herself (or contrived to have her father explain) to Thornton, although perhaps she and her father could be found guilty of harbouring a criminal.

I have also been struck by the transformation in Higgins in the course of the novel (or perhaps it is a change in my perspective as well). He initially was a bit threatening and seemed something of a loafer, but he has shown depth of feeling in his care for his daughter and his growing respect for Margaret and her Father, as well as his undertaking to support Boucher's family. His persistence and his reasonableness in applying to Thornton for a position was truly admirable and I hope that Thornton will follow by perhaps offering him a job. This appears to be developing into a novel which expresses a hope for a more conciliatory approach to relationships both between the classes and between master and worker for the mutual good of all.


message 21: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "I was fascinated by the extreme importance Margaret has placed on being caught out in a lie. This is clearly much worse to her than being suspected of having an illicit meeting with a man, and she ..."

I think Higgins does change. He comes off as very defensive in the beginning. I think once he trusts Margaret and recognizes her kindness, he's willing to open up.

Margaret is a remarkable character, and wonderfully written.


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