North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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Nicholas Higgins Character Analysis

Higgins, Bessy and Mary’s father, is a careworn, middle-aged millworker whom Margaret encounters in the streets of Milton. He tolerates Bessy’s colorful faith, but personally believes only in what he knows firsthand (though he eventually admits that he does believe in the existence of God). He is a committee-man for the millworkers’ strike and often argues with his impoverished neighbor, John Boucher, over the union’s coercive tactics. He tends to drink to excess sometimes and to become belligerent, but he is not habitually drunk. After Margaret stops him from going to the gin-shop after Bessy’s death, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mr. Hale. After Boucher’s suicide, Higgins feels responsible for driving him to despair and decides to help care for his orphaned children. Motivated by this, he stubbornly seeks a job from Thornton, and the two slowly gain respect for one another and eventually collaborate on factory projects.

Nicholas Higgins Quotes in North and South

The North and South quotes below are all either spoken by Nicholas Higgins or refer to Nicholas Higgins. 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 11 Quotes

“…[P]oor old wench,—I’m loth to vex thee, I am; but a man mun speak out for the truth, and when I see the world going all wrong at this time o’ day, bothering itself wi’ things it knows nought about, and leaving undone all the things that lie in disorder close at its hand—why, I say, leave a’ this talk about religion alone, and set to work on what yo’ see and know. That’s my creed. It’s simple, and not far to fetch, nor hard to work.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Higgins (speaker), Margaret Hale, Bessy Higgins
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

“Yo’ know well, that a worser tyrant than e’er th’ masters were says. ‘Clem to death, and see ‘em a’ clem to death, ere yo’ dare go again th’ Union.’ Yo’ know it well, Nicholas, for a’ yo’re one on ‘em. Yo’ may be kind hearts, each separate; but once banded together, yo’ve no more pity for a man than a wild hunger-maddened wolf.”

Related Characters: John Boucher (speaker), Nicholas Higgins
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28 Quotes

“As I was a-saying, sir, I reckon yo’d not ha’ much belief in yo’ if yo’ lived here,—if you’d been bred here. I ax your pardon if I use wrong words; but what I mean by belief just now, is a-thinking on sayings and maxims and promises made by folk yo’ never saw, about the things and the life yo’ never saw, nor no one else…There’s many and many a one wiser, and scores better learned than I am around me,—folk who’ve had time to think on these things,—while my time has had to be gi’en up to getting my bread.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Higgins (speaker), Margaret Hale, Mr. Richard Hale
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 37 Quotes

“North an’ South have each getten their own troubles. If work’s sure and steady theer, labor’s paid at starvation prices; while here we’n rucks o’ money coming in one quarter, and ne’er a farthing th’ next. For sure, th’ world is in a confusion that passes me or any other man to understand; it needs fettling, and who’s to fettle it, if it’s as yon folks say, and there’s nought but what we see?”

Related Characters: Nicholas Higgins (speaker)
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 39 Quotes

“Yo’ve called me impudent, and a liar, and a mischief-maker, and yo’ might ha’ said wi’ some truth, as I were now and then given to drink. An’ I ha’ called you a tyrant, an’ an oud bull-dog, and a hard, cruel master; that’s where it stands. But for th’ childer. Measter, do yo’ think we can e’er get on together?”

“Well!” said Mr. Thornton, half-laughing, “it was not my proposal that we should go together. But there’s one comfort, on your own showing. We neither of us can think much worse of the other than we do now.”

Related Characters: John Thornton (speaker), Nicholas Higgins (speaker)
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:
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Nicholas Higgins Character Timeline in North and South

The timeline below shows where the character Nicholas Higgins appears in North and South. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret learns that the two are named Nicholas and Bessy Higgins. She is surprised when they wonder why she wants to know their... (full context)
Chapter 11
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
One day, when she has been out interviewing servants, Margaret runs into Bessy Higgins in the street. Bessy’s health is not much better, and she tells Margaret that she... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
At this moment, Nicholas Higgins enters. Higgins tells Margaret he doesn’t want Bessy preached to— “she’s bad enough as... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
When Margaret asks Higgins if he doesn’t agree with her about God, he replies, “I believe what I see,... (full context)
Chapter 13
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...to be thought “soft,” and she wanted to keep up Mary’s schooling and her father, Higgins’, love of books and lectures. She mentions that she is 19, and Margaret must hold... (full context)
Chapter 17
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret is slightly cheered when she takes a walk and decides to visit Bessy Higgins. Nicholas Higgins is also at home. He tells Margaret that although Bessy is disheartened by... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Bessy interjects that before this strike is over, she will be in the Holy Jerusalem. Higgins retorts that Bessy is “so full of th’ life to come, [she] cannot think of... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Margaret questions Higgins further about the strike as he puffs on his pipe. Finally, he says he doesn’t... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...be borne everywhere. She also thinks that Southerners “have too much sense” to strike, though Higgins thinks they have “too little spirit.” Bessy argues that previous strikes didn’t gain them anything,... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret wants to understand the reason for the strike. Higgins explains that five or six masters are trying to pay their workers less than the... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Higgins argues that striking is “just as much in the cause of others as yon soldier”—and... (full context)
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
When Higgins goes outside to finish his pipe, Bessy frets over the possibility that her father will... (full context)
Chapter 19
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...a dream. Bessy points out that many biblical characters had dreams and saw visions; even Higgins thinks highly of dreams. She begs to be allowed to visit Margaret to see her... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...forehead and rubs her cold feet, Bessy says that workers keep dropping by to tell Higgins their woes, and it’s driving her out of her wits. She compares the continual conflict... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
When Higgins comes in, seeming drunk, he hears Bessy mention the dinner party and wishes he could... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
From Bessy and Higgins, Margaret hears another perspective altogether. Higgins is a committee-man for the strike, and Margaret hears... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...the union “a worser tyrant than e’er th’ masters were.” He quotes the union, including Higgins, as having said, “Clem [starve] to death…ere yo’ dare go again th’ Union.” He tells... (full context)
Chapter 25
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...the Bible, but Bessy is distracted by thoughts of the riot. She tells Margaret that Higgins is devastated about it. She explains that the strike committee had charged the union to... (full context)
Chapter 28
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...restful smile on the deceased Bessy’s face, she is glad to have come to the Higgins’. Soon Higgins arrives home, in shock from hearing the news on the street, and weeps... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Though Higgins looks as though he will strike her, Margaret doesn’t stir an inch. They remain in... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
When Margaret and Higgins arrive at the Hales’, Margaret runs ahead to warn her father about the surprise guest.... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...time later, she finds that Mr. Hale’s courteousness has “called out…all the latent courtesy in” Higgins—who is, after all, neither “an habitual drunkard nor a thorough infidel,” simply never having found... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Higgins and Mr. Hale are discussing religion. Higgins says that if Mr. Hale had been born... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Higgins ultimately admits that, after seeing the life Bessy has lived, he must believe “that there... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Mr. Hale and Margaret change the subject to the strike. As they listen to Higgins, they gather that the workers, like the masters, tend to think of their fellow men... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...have made some mistakes in their understanding of wage levels, and he offers to read Higgins some passages from a relevant book. Higgins tells him there’s no point, as he’s tried... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Higgins stubbornly replies that, while that argument may or may not be true, such books are... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...one another’s point of view. Margaret doubts that Thornton could be persuaded. Hearing Thornton’s name, Higgins complains that Thornton ought to have made sure Boucher was punished for instigating violence. Margaret... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Higgins explains to Margaret that the union shuns and ostracizes any worker who won’t join it.... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
As the conversation ends, Higgins quietly promises Margaret that he will go straight home and not to the gin-shop. Mr.... (full context)
Chapter 36
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience 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... (full context)
Chapter 37
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...strangely disappointed when Thornton doesn’t appear for an expected lesson that evening. Instead, a subdued Higgins shows up, to Dixon’s disgust: “Why master and you must always be asking the lower... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Higgins explains to Mr. Hale that he’s been seeking work for the sake of Boucher’s widow... (full context)
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Margaret interjects that Higgins would be miserable in the agricultural South—the labor would be too much for a man... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Higgins realizes the Hales are right that the South isn’t a utopia—“North an’ South have each... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Margaret asks Higgins if he would consider asking Thornton for work. Higgins says it would “tax [his] pride,”... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret says that if only Higgins would speak to Thornton as he does to them, and if only Thornton would listen... (full context)
Chapter 38
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Higgins keeps his promise to Margaret, waiting for hours to speak to Thornton. Thornton’s business is... (full context)
Chapter 39
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Later Margaret visits Higgins and finds him playing with some of the Boucher children; he describes his unsatisfactory conversation... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Thornton is equally uncomfortable at unexpectedly seeing Margaret. He has come to Higgins because he believes he behaved unjustly toward Higgins the day before, especially upon hearing that... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Higgins speaks fiercely to Thornton at first, but Thornton says that he has spoken as he... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
...sees her coming out of the Bouchers’ house. He tells her about his hiring of Higgins, and asks whether she has any explanations of her own to give him. Though strangely... (full context)
Chapter 40
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
The winter passes monotonously after Bell’s visit. Higgins works steadily for Thornton, commenting to the Hales that Thornton is like “two chaps”—one the... (full context)
Chapter 41
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret visits Higgins next, who reports that his new master, Thornton, is “good enough to fight wi’, but... (full context)
Chapter 42
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Thornton talks about his acquaintance with Higgins—“a strange kind of chap”—and the brainstorm Thornton had to start a dining-room for his workers.... (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
Margaret first bids Mary Higgins a tearful goodbye, taking with her a drinking-cup to remind her of Bessy. Then she... (full context)
Chapter 50
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Until Thornton got to know Higgins, he and his fellow townsmen and factory workers have led parallel lives, “very close, but... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...of his capital is in new, expensive machinery. Thornton at first is inclined to resent Higgins for his role in the strike, but the more they, along with Thornton’s other men,... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
One day Higgins asks Thornton whether he’s heard anything of Margaret recently and notices how Thornton’s face lights... (full context)
Chapter 51
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...that he’s received a round-robin letter stating the wish of some of his men—likely including Higgins—to continue working for him, when he is in a position to employ them again. Margaret... (full context)