North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That night, Margaret sits in her bedroom, reflecting on the day and filled with sorrow that “seemed to have pressed the youth and buoyancy out of her heart, never to return.” Henry’s marriage proposal seems like a mere dream, next to the painful reality of Mr. Hale’s leaving the Church. She stares out at the outline of the church in the darkness, feeling that God seems unreachable.
In contrast to Margaret’s youthful delight in returning to the forest, she now begins to feel the weight of responsibilities beyond her years. Romance seems a trifling problem next to Mr. Hale’s deserting the Church and its impact on the family. Because the Church has been so closely integrated into her family life and identity, it makes sense that she would experience her own crisis of faith.
Themes
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Just then, Mr. Hale steps into Margaret’s room and asks her to pray with him, so they kneel by the window-seat and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Margaret feels the closeness of God once again and decides she will have to trust God to reveal the path one step at a time. She passes a fretful night dreaming unpleasantly of Henry Lennox, then wakes up unrefreshed, with Mr. Hale’s doubts pressing on her once again.
Mr. Hale’s and Margaret’s shared prayer represents the bond the two still share as fellow Christians. Margaret begins to understand that her life isn’t going to unfold in the predictable, safe pattern she’d envisioned when leaving London; her character will be shaped through change and struggle.
Themes
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
While Margaret knows that her father would have delayed telling Mrs. Hale the news until the last possible moment, she is “of different stuff” and breaks it to her mother as they walk around the garden that morning, blurting the whole of it in a few blunt sentences. Mrs. Hale begins to cry, sure that there must be some mistake. Margaret gives what details she can, conscious that “it was an error in her father to have left [Mrs. Hale] to learn his change of opinion…from her better-informed child.”
Margaret is already stronger than her father in certain ways—something that will become clearer as the story goes on. She also doesn’t shrink from admitting her father’s weakness to herself, realizing he has delegated responsibilities to her that he ought to have seen through himself.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Mrs. Hale is impatient and dismissive of Mr. Hale’s religious doubts and hurt by his failure to consult her. However, Margaret manages to distract her with talk of Milton, and they discuss the “factory-people” among whom they will be living. Mrs. Hale wonders, “Who on earth wears cotton that can afford linen?” Margaret replies that she isn’t standing up for cotton-spinners “any more than for any other trades-people,” but consoles her mother that they will have little to do with such people.
Mrs. Hale expresses disdain for cotton—the basis of Milton’s rapid economic boom. Margaret doesn’t expect to have personal contact with trades-people, anticipating that their social contacts will be similar in Milton to what they’ve been in Helstone.
Themes
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
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That evening Mr. Hale returns home with a timid look “almost pitiful to see in a man’s face,” and Margaret leaves Mrs. Hale weeping on his chest. She retreats to her room and finally lets go of her own self-control, crying until Dixon comes into the room some time later. Dixon is indignant about Mr. Hale’s “turning Dissenter at his time of life” and wonders what Mrs. Hale’s father would have said. Margaret, offended at having these words spoken to her face, sends Dixon from the room. Dixon heeds Margaret and respects  her from that time forward.
Mr. Hale is associated with traditionally feminine traits throughout the book. Margaret, in contrast, doesn’t freely express her emotions, showing the burden she feels to support her parents. Dixon understands “turning Dissenter” (a non-Anglican Protestant) to be inappropriate for a middle-aged clergyman and an example of how Mr. Hale doesn’t measure up to his wife. However, Margaret asserts her authority, and Dixon can’t help respecting it.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Mrs. Hale becomes too ill from stress to be of use, and Mr. Hale is too depressed to deal with the practical questions of moving. Margaret finds that the weight of decision-making has been thrown onto her. She reflects on the contrast between the relative superficiality of her life in London and her present burdens; now, “every day brought some question, momentous to her, and to those whom she loved, to be settled.” She brightens, however, when she comes up with the plan to settle Mrs. Hale and Dixon at Heston, a seaside town, while she and Mr. Hale search for a house in Milton.
While Mr. Hale’s decision started it all, Margaret is essentially responsible for carrying out the consequences. Though the circumstances are weightier, she is again caught up “in a whirlwind of some other person’s making.” Though forced by circumstance, she begins to show a knack for planning and taking initiative.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon