North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Margaret and Mr. Hale talk about Thornton as they walk home. Mr. Hale thinks that Thornton looked anxious that evening. Margaret is glad of this—she thinks of the half-crazed Boucher compared to Thornton’s unflappable coolness. Mr. Hale thinks that Thornton has a greater depth of feeling than Margaret gives him credit for, as Thornton has been forced to exercise great self-control from an early age. He tells Margaret that she’s prejudiced against Thornton.
Mr. Hale suggests that Margaret doesn’t appreciate the fullness of Thornton’s character, especially how his driven youth caused him to develop emotional restraint.
Themes
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Margaret replies that Thornton is the first manufacturer that she’s had the opportunity to know, so it’s not surprising that he’s distasteful to her, at least initially: “he is my first olive; let me make a face while I swallow it”.
Margaret says that her first manufacturing acquaintance may not be palatable to her at first, but suggests that this doesn’t mean she’ll always dislike him. She acknowledges that getting to know someone personally, rather than as a representative of a class, makes a difference in understanding someone.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
When Margaret and Mr. Hale get home, they are met by an anxious Dixon. Dr. Donaldson is there; he has given Mrs. Hale an opiate to relieve terrible spasms, but he says she will rally this time. When Mr. Hale looks at his wife, whom “death had signed…for his own,” he finally realizes the severity of her situation. He says it is cruel of Margaret not to have told him, but Dr. Donaldson defends her handling of the situation and tries to encourage him: “be a man, sir—a Christian.” Mr. Hale replies that the unmarried doctor cannot possibly understand his agony, and he dissolves into “manly sobs.”
Mr. Hale finally begins to come to grips with the reality of his wife’s condition. Coming on the heels of Thornton’s comments on “manliness,” Gaskell’s characterization of Hale’s grief suggests that unrestrained grief isn’t unbefitting for a man—it’s one of the rare times that Mr. Hale is characterized in masculine terms more than feminine.
Themes
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
They sit up that night watching over Mrs. Hale, Margaret thinking how dreamlike the events of recent days now seem, and wishing she could get back the monotonous days of the previous winter, in order to enjoy more time with her mother. Mrs. Hale rallies slightly over the next few days. Dr. Donaldson sends Margaret to the Thorntons’ to inquire about a water-bed Mrs. Thornton might lend them to enhance Mrs. Hale’s comfort.
Compared to the gravity of her mother’s impending death, everything else in life seems trivial to Margaret, and she reminisces for quieter days she took for granted at the time.
Themes
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
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Margaret begins the long, hot walk to the Thorntons’ lost in thought, but soon she notices an excited stirring among the crowds in the streets. By the time she reaches Marlborough Mills, she’s aware of a “thunderous atmosphere” all around her. When she reaches the Thorntons’, the nervous porter admits her, and Margaret is struck by the silence of the mill compared to the ominous sounds in the streets.
The streets of Milton have the feeling of a calm before the storm, setting up for the chaotic riot to come.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon