Margaret is poor, but she thinks she's too good to marry Mr. Thornton, who is rich. That's mostly because Margaret is educated and cultured and Thornton is not. Thornton's mother, though, doesn't want her son marrying a poor woman because Thornton's mom is a snob who thinks that poor people smell.
So yeah, issues of society and class are at play in North and South. It's just not always easy to figure out what game they're playing. That's because people from the south of England live by very different values than people from the north, and questions of social class and status often get confusing in this clash of cultures.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that Margaret's views on social class are way too naïve and idealistic to apply to the real world.
<em>North and South</em> is ultimately the story of the greedy Mr. Thornton learning to be more compassionate and understanding toward those who are less fortunate.
Even the epigraph to North and South suggests that Elizabeth Gaskell would like for the whole world to be a little more compassionate. The book's main character, Margaret Hale, would like the same thing, although she's more of a hypocrite than she might first realize.
More specifically, she shows compassion toward the people you'd expect her to—the poor and the needy. But she has no compassion at all for members of England's new middle class, people who have built up their own businesses and who strive to make money. If anything, Margaret is extremely judgmental toward these people, and she doesn't really mature as an adult until she learns to extend compassion to them too.
<em>North and South</em> is ultimately the story of Margaret Hale learning to sympathize with bosses as much as she does with workers.
In <em>North and South</em>, Elizabeth Gaskell shows us that compassion is the opposite of selfishness.
North and South is a book about values, and the source of values for every character in this book is their families. It's clear that Margaret Hale's values have been deeply influenced by her parents; the same goes for Mr. Thornton, especially when you see how much of a hold his mother has over him.
Family provides these characters with a model of how we should treat the people around us. Mr. Thornton treats people a certain way because that's what's expected from his family, and the same goes for Margaret Hale. The problem for both these characters lies in how they relate to other people when their families have given them different versions of how to approach the world.
In <em>North and South</em>, Gaskell sometimes criticizes the system of the family for making people unsympathetic to anyone outside their inner circle.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that the purpose of family is to teach us to treat everyone we meet with compassion and respect… in other words, like family.
Love is a funny thing in North and South. It's always hovering around, but it's never really fulfilled until the last half of the last page. Well, maybe that's not totally fair. Family love is definitely fulfilled at different times in the book. But romantic love is always frustrated, whether it's Henry Lennox's love for Margaret or John Thornton's love for her.
One of the reasons this love takes so long to pan out is because Margaret Hale doesn't really know how to love in the romantic sense. So much of her attention has always been devoted to compassion for others and to love for her parents that she can't imagine the idea of ever being married. But luckily for John Thornton, that changes by the end.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that love isn't something we're born knowing how to do. It's something we need to learn by getting over ourselves and being humble enough to admit we need someone else.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that romantic love is great, but not as important as looking after your community.
Home is where the heart is… and Margaret's heart is back in Helstone. Much of the plot of North and South centers around Margaret's inability to feel at home in her new town of Milton. The people of Milton don't share her values, the factories are noisy and the air is polluted. But the main reason Margaret doesn't like Milton is that it just isn't her hometown.
Margaret realizes that she needs to do everything in her power to make the best of her situation, and that means making a home out of Milton. Once Milton becomes her home, she starts to overlook its shortcomings.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that home is wherever you are, as long as you're with loved ones.
In <em>North and South</em>, we see the truth in the expression, "You can never go home again."
In a lot of ways, the story of North and South is about Margaret Hale's journey from pride to humility. Along the way, all kinds of bad stuff happens to her, but she insists over and over again that her morals and education are too good for the town of Milton. It's only with time and thought that she can eventually see that her pride is holding her back from experiencing life to its fullest.
Specifically, her pride has kept her from falling in love because she has always felt as though no one is good enough for her. Gaskell makes it pretty apparent that that's one thing that needs to change if Margaret's going to become the person she wants to be.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that pride can cause even the best of us to lose our way.
In <em>North and South</em>, Gaskell suggests that pride is fine as long as it doesn't cause us to look down on others.
Margaret Hale is an independent and outspoken woman, especially when compared to what people would have found "normal" in Victorian England. In fact, when North and South first came out, a lot of critics criticized Elizabeth Gaskell for writing about political issues like labor relations when only men were supposed to write about that manly stuff.
In any case, it's a good thing Gaskell created a character as strong and independent as Margaret, because it allowed her to push the boundaries of what was considered a woman's proper role in English society.
In <em>North and South</em>, Elizabeth Gaskell shows us that the relationships between bosses and workers get a lot better once women are allowed to express their opinion on the issue of labor relations.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that a strong female character can still be (and should be) flawed like anyone else.
One major thing that marks Margaret Hale's transition from the south of England to the north is the move from nature to industry. The village of Helstone was like something out of a fairy tale, with squirrels playing and dogs barking and all that wonderful stuff. Milton, on the other hand, is an industrial wasteland of smokestacks and filthy urban streets. And with all of this modern dirt comes the moral "dirt" of people who only care about money. North and South suggests that Margaret needs to find a way to adapt to, and find beauty in, the North if she's going to make a home for herself.
In <em>North and South</em>, Elizabeth Gaskell shows us that modern industry and technology is going to ruin nature and make it impossible to enjoy living in this world.
In <em>North and South</em>, we learn that even though industry might be messy and sometimes immoral, it is inevitable and we need to learn to live with it.