Mr. Thornton stumbles away from the Hales’ house overwhelmed with heartbreak, feeling as though Margaret had become “a sturdy fish-wife” and had dealt him “a sound blow.” Yet beneath his torment, he’s aware that he still loves her. When a passing omnibus stops near him on the street, he boards it and rides it out of Milton into an outlying country town. The other passengers dismount, so he does, too.
The word “fishwife” implies a coarse-mannered, loud, violent woman, in humorous contrast to the dignity that normally attracts Thornton to Margaret. It shows that he’s in a tailspin and confused about what to make of her. The fact that he would escape to the country—a place befitting Margaret more than Thornton himself—symbolizes Margaret’s connection with nature and rural life.
Mr. Thornton walks briskly through the fields, reflecting on what a fool he’s been and how little he understands Margaret. Over the course of the afternoon, he gains little besides “a more vivid conviction that there never was, never could be, any one like Margaret.” At last he returns to Milton to face Mrs. Thornton.
The country fields provide a fitting backdrop for Thornton’s mental wrestlings over Margaret, though Thornton comes to the conclusion that she escapes his or anyone’s categorization.
Mrs. Thornton has sat in her dining room all day, bracing herself for news of her son’s engagement. When she thinks of Margaret, she reflects that had Margaret been a Milton native, Mrs. Thornton might actually have liked her spirit, but Margaret is a prejudiced Southerner.
Mrs. Thornton admires the spirited traits in Margaret that she sees in herself, but can’t look beyond those because Margaret’s Southern origins overwhelm all else, in her mind.
When Thornton gets home, he tells Mrs. Thornton that no one cares for him but her. When she sees her son’s dejection, “the strong woman tottered” for the first time in her life. She mutters a curse when Thornton tells her what’s happened. But Thornton can’t bear to hear her speak of her hatred for Margaret, and they agree to never discuss the subject again.
Thornton is his mother’s weak spot, and she can’t endure the insult of his being rejected. She’s back to wholeheartedly despising Margaret.