North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Margaret helps Dixon in the aftermath of Mrs. Hale’s death, she has no time to cry—while Mr. Hale and Frederick grieve, “she must be working, planning, considering. Even the necessary arrangements for the funeral seemed to devolve upon her.”
Margaret channels her own grief into tending to the grief of the men around her, throwing herself into the pragmatic details of the funeral.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
When Margaret briefly gives in to weeping, Dixon, not unkindly, tries to brace her up by pointing out that Margaret has been lucky not to experience any great loss before this. Margaret tries to get Mr. Hale’s input on funeral arrangements, but he doesn’t have the energy and refers her instead to his friend Mr. Bell.
There is no natural place for Margaret to express her grief, as Dixon scolds her for it and her father is of no help; she’s truly on her own.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
That evening, Dixon confides to Margaret that she doesn’t think it’s safe for Frederick to stay any longer. She saw a man named Leonards in town, a scamp of a young man who’d been acquainted with Frederick at sea. In the course of their chance encounter, Leonards made sneering remarks about Frederick and what a disgrace he is to his family. Margaret, Frederick, and Mr. Hale discuss it and agree that Frederick can’t risk staying longer.
Much like Margaret is alone in coping with her grief, Frederick has no safe place to go in his home country. The family circle is disintegrating further, as the family prepares to lose Frederick, too.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
When Frederick idly mentions getting a glimpse of Thornton at the door and thinking him “a shopman,” Margaret feels annoyed and wants to correct him, but finds herself tongue-tied.
Margaret’s earlier classification of Thornton as “a tradesman” has clearly been overturned, since she objects to Frederick’s dismissive description.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
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Frederick expresses his wish that Margaret and Mr. Hale might join him in Spain, where he has a good position and plans to marry a girl named Dolores Barbour. Margaret asks to hear more about Dolores, who is a Roman Catholic. She sighs when reminded of Mr. Hale’s change of religious opinion, realizing Frederick’s own conversion to Catholicism explains why Frederick had not seemed to share her distress on the subject in his letters—Frederick, too, had been changing his opinions in the opposite direction, though “how much love had to do with this change not even Frederick himself could have told.”
Frederick’s conversion is presented almost as an aside—surprising at a time when Roman Catholics had only recently faced legal discrimination. Gaskell also acknowledges that religious conversions can have many different motivations, even romance. In any case, Margaret is alone among her family in yet another way, as the sole remaining Anglican.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Margaret wonders whether Frederick could clear his name in the event of a court-martial. Frederick explains that such courts care more for authority than for justice and doubts whether he could gather sufficient evidence of his well-intentioned motives for the mutiny. Margaret suggests that he meet with Henry Lennox on his way out of England the next day, and she duly writes a letter to Lennox explaining her brother’s situation.
Frederick frankly explains that justice isn’t always attainable, even through legal bodies ostensibly set up for that purpose—another example in the story of how individuals sometimes suffer for the sake of causes others deem more important.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon