When Margaret gets home, Mr. Hale asks about Dr. Donaldson’s visit, and Margaret downplays the gravity of Mrs. Hale’s condition. Her heart aches, however, to see that he is restless and anxious for his wife. They have received an invitation to a dinner at Mrs. Thornton’s, and Mrs. Hale is insistent that Margaret and Mr. Hale should go without her.
In this passage, Margaret continues to take responsibility for protecting her father’s emotions, trying to shield him from the pain of learning how serious Mrs. Hale’s condition really is.
At the Thorntons’ the next evening, Mrs. Thornton, John Thornton, and Fanny discuss the dinner RSVPs. Mrs. Thornton still isn’t quite sure what to make of the Hales, and her son’s regard for them. She finds Mr. Hale “rather too simple for trade,” Mrs. Hale “a bit of a fine lady, with her invalidism,” and Margaret a puzzle, since she “seems to have a great notion of giving herself airs,” despite not being rich.
Mrs. Thornton continues to struggle to neatly categorize the Hales, just as they’ve struggled to classify tradesmen within their worldview. However, that doesn’t stop her from making harsh (and misguided) judgments about them.
After pacing awhile, Thornton abruptly tells Mrs. Thornton that he wishes she would like Margaret. Surprised, she asks whether he has had some thought of marrying her, at which he laughs, “She would never have me.” Mrs. Thornton agrees, remembering the way that “saucy jade” had laughed at her when she raised a similar idea. Thornton says that although he doesn’t expect to marry Margaret, he asks that Mrs. Thornton be ready to be a friend to Margaret, in case she needs it. Though Mrs. Thornton cannot forgive Margaret her pride, she agrees, for her son’s sake.
Thornton can’t deny having romantic feelings for Margaret, and though he has no expectation of those feelings being returned, he still wants to look out for her, in the likelihood that she’ll soon lose her mother. This again points to Thornton’s capacity for kindness on an individual level.
Thornton changes the subject to the strike, which he’s certain is imminent. He explains what he doesn’t believe the strikers understand—that with the Americans entering the market, his mill must reduce costs in order to stay competitive, meaning it’s impossible to continue paying his workers at the same rate. In summing up the affair, he concludes, “It is too bad to find out that fools—ignorant wayward men like these—just by uniting their weak silly heads, are to rule over the fortunes of those who bring all the wisdom that knowledge and experience…can give.” He may end up getting workers from Ireland.
Thornton continues to view his discontented workers as ignorant fools, even though he feels no compulsion to enlighten them himself. Once again, he casts the two classes as wise versus foolish. The threat of importing laborers from Ireland is ominous, since this controversial practice often led to violence.