North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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Smoke, Fog, and Gray Symbol Analysis

Smoke, Fog, and Gray Symbol Icon

Particularly in the early chapters of North and South, smoke, fog, and the associated color gray symbolize industry’s overwhelming presence in the North, as well as the adverse impact industry can have on human flourishing. When the Hales arrive in the seaside town of Heston en route to Milton, they immediately notice that “the colors looked grayer—more enduring, not so gay and pretty,” a description which is associated with the townsfolks’ utilitarian clothing and ceaseless busywork in their shops. People’s lives appear less vibrant and more consumed with work than in the South.

Miles before reaching Milton for the first time, Margaret and Mr. Hale see “a deep lead-colored cloud” hanging over the city in the distance, and they soon notice “a faint taste and smell of smoke”—an experience that engulfs their senses long before they see the dull, unvarying rows of houses and dodge cotton-laden lorries in the streets. Industry is inescapable, even if one doesn’t work in a mill. Likewise, as the Hales settle into their Milton home, “a thick fog crept up to the very windows, and was driven into every open door in choking white wreaths of unwholesome mist.” Dixon predicts the fog will be the death of Mrs. Hale before long. Indeed, Dixon’s prediction turns out to be true; Mrs. Hale’s health soon suffers, in part because of heavier domestic responsibilities, but largely because “the air itself was so different, deprived of all revivifying principle” compared to Helstone. The change in their lives has been too devastating for Mrs. Hale to recover from, and none of them can escape the encroachment of industry physically, psychologically, or in their relationships.

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Smoke, Fog, and Gray Symbol Timeline in North and South

The timeline below shows where the symbol Smoke, Fog, and Gray appears in North and South. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...reflects that, even in this small Northern town, “everything looked more ‘purposelike,’” the colors are grayer, the clothing more utilitarian, and the people more relentlessly busy. The family settles into temporary... (full context)
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...over the horizon. The scent of vegetation fades and gives way to the smell of smoke. They travel through “long, straight, hopeless streets of regularly-built houses” and past puffing factories, having... (full context)
Chapter 8
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...of spirits when they arrive in their new home on a foggy day—they “must endure smoke and fogs for a season; indeed, all other life seemed shut out from them by... (full context)
Chapter 11
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...goes to bed worrying about Mrs. Hale, whose health appears to be suffering from the smoky air and heavier domestic strain of life in Milton. Once, Margaret overheard her mother praying... (full context)
Chapter 20
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...As they look outside 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... (full context)