North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 33 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Margaret gets home, she argues with Mr. Hale about attending Mrs. Hale’s funeral. She wants to go, but middle-class women don’t typically attend funerals because they’re thought to be unable to control their emotions and are ashamed to show them; whereas poor women have no such inhibitions. Mr. Bell is too ill to come to the funeral, and Margaret is upset that Mr. Thornton proposes to accompany Mr. Hale instead.
As Margaret has become comfortable resisting class distinctions during her time in Milton, it isn’t surprising that she would resist expectations in the case of her mother’s funeral, too. Margaret is also bothered by Thornton’s presumption in wanting to attend a family funeral.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret receives a worrying letter from Frederick saying that he’s lingered in London in hopes of meeting Mr. Lennox, who is currently out of town. She hides this news from her father, who is overcome with grief. She sits with him before the funeral and recites all the comforting Bible verses she can remember, finding that “her voice never faltered; and she herself gained strength by doing this.”
Margaret continues to dutifully shield her father from grief and allow him to gain strength through her. In fact, far from shrinking from the task, she finds herself buoyed by it—suggesting that she’s coming into her own in her spiritual leadership of the family.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
After the funeral, Mr. Thornton approaches Dixon to ask how Mr. Hale and Margaret are doing. He is disappointed to hear that Margaret is bearing up well, since he’d hoped to comfort her. He is also disturbed by the memory of seeing her at the train station with a handsome young man, at such a late hour. It takes him “a great moral effort to galvanize his trust—erstwhile so perfect—in Margaret’s pure and exquisite maidenliness.” He imagines that the young man is the source of Margaret’s strength in her grief. But Margaret never hears about Dixon’s conversation with Thornton.
Being out in the evening with a man would have been seen as a potential compromising of a young woman’s morals—something that doesn’t seem to have crossed Margaret’s mind, just as she was oblivious to the way her actions during the riot (throwing her arms around Thornton to protect him) would be interpreted. She’s confident in her own abilities and short-sighted as to how this appears to others. Thornton makes an effort to believe the best about Margaret despite having seen her in this situation.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon