North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on North and South can help.

Mrs. Thornton Character Analysis

Mrs. Thornton is fiercely devoted to her son, John Thornton. She bears with and indulges the weaker Fanny, but John is the pride of her heart. Mrs. Thornton is described as “a large-boned lady, long past middle age,” with strong features. She turns heads in the streets because she is so “firm, severe, [and] dignified.” However, she is shy in society and ill at ease in meeting new people. She despises Margaret from the moment she hears about the girl’s proud demeanor, believing Margaret has disrespected her son. However, she grudgingly respects Margaret’s spirit and would like her if she weren’t a “prejudiced” Southerner who is ignorant about industry and life in the North. She also looks down on what she sees as the Hales’ pretensions of superiority and scorns education as a luxury. She promises to befriend Margaret in the event of Mrs. Hale’s death, but she uses this excuse to savagely insult Margaret’s virtue. When Margaret leaves Milton, Mrs. Thornton is pleased to be rid of her, little suspecting that Thornton and Margaret will come together in the end.

Mrs. Thornton Quotes in North and South

The North and South quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Thornton or refer to Mrs. Thornton. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of North and South published in 1996.
Chapter 15 Quotes

“If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave heart, Miss Hale.”

“I would do my best,” said Margaret rather pale. “I do not know whether I am brave or not till I am tried; but I am afraid I should be a coward.”

“South country people are often frightened by what our Darkshire men and women call only living and struggling. But when you’ve been ten years among a people who are always owing their betters a grudge, and only waiting for an opportunity to pay it off, you’ll know whether you are a coward or not; take my word for it.”

Related Characters: Margaret Hale (speaker), Mrs. Thornton (speaker)
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 38 Quotes

“At first, when I heard from one of my servants, that you had been seen walking about with a gentleman, so far from home as the Outwood station, at such a time of the evening, I could hardly believe it…It was indiscreet, to say the least; many a young woman has lost her character before now—”

Margaret’s eyes flashed fire. This was a new idea—this was too insulting. If Mrs. Thornton had spoken to her about the lie she had told, well and good—she would have owned it, and humiliated herself. But to interfere with her conduct—to speak of her character! She—Mrs. Thornton, a mere stranger—it was too impertinent! She would not answer her—not one word. Mrs. Thornton saw the battle-spirit in Margaret’s eyes, and it called up her combativeness also.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Thornton (speaker), Margaret Hale, Frederick Hale
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire North and South LitChart as a printable PDF.
North and South PDF

Mrs. Thornton Character Timeline in North and South

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Thornton appears in North and South. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Meanwhile, in the Thornton house, Mr. Thornton is having a conversation with his mother. Mrs. Thornton sniffs at the thought of her son changing his clothes in order to have tea... (full context)
Chapter 12
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Though Thornton has asked her to, Mrs. Thornton is reluctant to call on Mrs. Hale and Margaret. She makes a big deal about... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...years of poverty and seems to know little of hardship or struggle. The subject of Mrs. Thornton ’s fondness for Milton comes up, and Mrs. Thornton asks whether the Hales have visited... (full context)
Chapter 15
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
The next day Mr. Hale and Margaret walk to the Thorntons’ to return Mrs. Thornton ’s call. When they arrive at Marlborough Mills, they must walk past the immense mill,... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
When Mrs. Thornton comes in, Margaret gives a halting account of Mrs. Hale’s illness, not wanting to distress... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
The three discuss Mr. Thornton’s love of his studies with Mr. Hale. Mrs. Thornton says that study of the classics is fine for people of leisure, but she doesn’t... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
When Margaret suggests that a variety of interests helps to avoid rigidity of mind, Mrs. Thornton says that Thornton only needs to pursue one interest: “to hold and maintain a high,... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...had never heard of Mr. Thornton until Mr. Bell had mentioned his name, and that Mrs. Thornton ’s world “was not their world of Harley Street gentilities on the one hand, or... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton retorts that Bell can know little of Thornton, since he lives “a lazy life in... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton mentions that a strike has been threatened in Milton. Margaret asks what the people are... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Margaret asks whether this environment of struggle does not make Milton very rough. Mrs. Thornton says that of course it does, and she describes a time that she was forced... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
That evening, Mr. Thornton visits the Hales, bringing the address of a doctor Mrs. Thornton has recommended. Mr. Hale asks about the strike, and Mr. Thornton immediately “assumed a likeness... (full context)
Chapter 16
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
The next day, Dr. Donaldson, the doctor Mrs. Thornton has recommended, pays a visit. Margaret is excluded from Mrs. Hale’s room while he is... (full context)
Chapter 18
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
...restless and anxious for his wife. They have received an invitation to a dinner at Mrs. Thornton ’s, and Mrs. Hale is insistent that Margaret and Mr. Hale should go without her. (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
At the Thorntons’ the next evening, Mrs. Thornton , John Thornton, and Fanny discuss the dinner RSVPs. Mrs. Thornton still isn’t quite sure... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
After pacing awhile, Thornton abruptly tells Mrs. Thornton that he wishes she would like Margaret. Surprised, she asks whether he has had some... (full context)
Chapter 20
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...at the adjacent mill, Mr. Hale asks whether the noise and smoke are not annoying. Mrs. Thornton says that she likes the reminder of the source of her son’s wealth and that... (full context)
Chapter 21
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
...next few days. Dr. Donaldson sends Margaret to the Thorntons’ to inquire about a water-bed Mrs. Thornton might lend them to enhance Mrs. Hale’s comfort. (full context)
Chapter 22
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...has angered the Milton workers. The Irish workers are huddled fearfully inside the mill. When Mrs. Thornton comes in, no sooner can Margaret explain her request for the water-bed than they hear... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
When the crowds knock the gate down, Fanny faints, and Mrs. Thornton carries her from the room. Margaret, however, won’t leave Thornton’s side. Out the window, Margaret... (full context)
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...can tell you what you are to me…you are the only woman I ever loved!” Mrs. Thornton comes in to tend to Margaret, not having heard her son’s declaration, and Thornton tears... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
While Mrs. Thornton goes for a doctor, one of the serving-maids bathes Margaret’s forehead and tells Fanny, who... (full context)
Chapter 23
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
...to help pacify the Irish workers. He is shocked to find Margaret gone. He tells Mrs. Thornton that he doesn’t know where he would be if not for Margaret. “Are you become... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton successfully dissuades Thornton from going to see Margaret that night. Later that night, however, Thornton... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton says that Margaret obviously does care for Thornton, and admits that she likes Margaret better... (full context)
Chapter 26
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...never could be, any one like Margaret.” At last he returns to Milton to face Mrs. Thornton . (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton has sat in her dining room all day, bracing herself for news of her son’s... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
When Thornton gets home, he tells Mrs. Thornton that no one cares for him but her. When she sees her son’s dejection, “the... (full context)
Chapter 30
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
At Mrs. Hale’s request, Mrs. Thornton comes to visit her the next day. Mrs. Hale has had a difficult night and... (full context)
Chapter 38
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton has heard about Margaret’s presence at the train station scuffle. She believes that Margaret has... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Mrs. Thornton feels more bitter than ever towards Margaret. She even feels “a savage pleasure” at the... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
When Mrs. Thornton arrives at the Hales’, Margaret has just finished relating Mrs. Hale’s last days in a... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Instead, Mrs. Thornton speaks of the “indiscretion” of walking after dark with a young man. Margaret immediately turns... (full context)
Chapter 39
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
As Margaret goes over her conversation with Mrs. Thornton , she is distressed all over again to realize that Thornton must believe Frederick to... (full context)
Chapter 42
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
As Bell, Thornton, and Mrs. Thornton chat at the Thorntons’ house, Bell makes a passing reference to Frederick, startling Thornton. Bell... (full context)
Chapter 43
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...goodbye, taking with her a drinking-cup to remind her of Bessy. Then she reluctantly visits Mrs. Thornton , who shows greater warmth now that Margaret is leaving, and apologizes for her manner... (full context)
Chapter 50
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
One morning, after a sleepless night poring over his books, Thornton unburdens himself to Mrs. Thornton , explaining that he no longer dreads any outcome for his struggling business, because he... (full context)
Chapter 52
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...It’s implied that they kiss. The two wonder with quiet amusement how Aunt Shaw, and Mrs. Thornton , will react to their union. (full context)