North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Margaret and Mr. Hale go to visit Higgins, who is still out of work. Higgins explains that his former employer, Hamper, makes his men pledge not to support the union with their wages; consequently, he doesn’t know where he can expect to find work. Margaret asks him about Boucher’s remark that the union is the worst tyrant of all. Higgins replies that the union does “force a man into his own good.” Higgins is still angry at Boucher, because not only did he riot, but he went to Hamper’s mill seeking work, despite knowing about the new rule. Margaret says that the union has made Boucher what he is, by driving him into the union against his will.
Higgins’ views on the formation of character contrast curiously with those of Thornton, who maintains that employers can’t shape their workers outside of working hours; the union, on the other hand, is a tool to force people “into their own good.” Margaret believes that the tool is too blunt and backfires by bypassing persuasion of the will.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Just then, Margaret, Mr. Hale, and Higgins hear a steady tramping sound and look outside to see six men carrying a corpse on a door. They found the man drowned in the brook. It’s John Boucher.
While the discovery of Boucher’s suicide follows rather improbably on this conversation, Gaskell uses it to drive home Margaret’s point about the use of force versus persuasion.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
One of the men asks Higgins to break the news to Mrs. Boucher, but he refuses to face her. Margaret asks Mr. Hale to go, but he is trembling and can’t think what to say. Margaret offers to go instead. At the Bouchers’, Margaret finds a messy house filled with many children. Mrs. Boucher hasn’t seen Mr. Boucher since he left four days ago in search of work. When she understands Margaret’s message, she faints with grief. Mr. Hale and a kindly neighbor arrive to help tend to the children. They stop to speak to Higgins again on the way home, but he wants to be left alone.
As Margaret has been assuming spiritual leadership in her home, she now does so outside of her family circle—where Mr. Hale’s role was once to speak truth and solace in public, Margaret now steps in voluntarily to do so.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon