Maria Grazia is the blogger behind Fly High! and a teacher. I’m very excited to have her guest post, as she actually uses North and South as part of her curriculum. With an academic view of things, here is Maria Grazia:
When Margaret Hale finally decides to marry John Thornton, she must have thought about the risks she was running competing with his proud mother, Mrs Hannah Thornton, in his heart.
Re-reading the book or watching the TV series adaptation, I can never avoid figuring out the dreaded event, pushing myself a step ahead the words “the end .” By dreaded event, I mean the meeting between Margaret Hale and Hannah Thornton as John’s wife-to-be and mother-in-law to be. Not an enthusiastic one, I guess, with poor embarassed John between them hoping they could get on well together somehow for his sake.
Mrs Gaskell herself decided to close her narration with Margaret joking about Mrs Thornton’s reaction to the news of her engagement with John:
“Hush!”, said Margaret, “or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, “That woman!”
A bit of anxiety, but no fear, it seems, in those words. Margaret has never been afraid of Mrs Thornton. They are both stubborn , proud, passionate, strong-willed, brave women. Will they ever get on?
Mrs. Thornton is described by Gaskell as “strong and massive…[a] firm, severe, dignified woman” (p. 77). Before she has even met Margaret, Mrs. Thornton dislikes her. She is extremely protective of her son and is deeply offended that “a renegade clergyman’s daughter” dared to treat her son “with a haughty civility which had a strong flavour of contempt in it” (p. 78).
After meeting Margaret, Mrs. Thornton still does not like her, but does appreciate Margaret’s occasional frankness and vitality. Of course, Mrs. Thornton represents old-fashioned values and is challenged by Margaret who is the embodiment of the new and independent woman but part of the reason why Mrs. Thornton dislikes Margaret is that they have similar characters.
The parallelism between the two women is brought about by the author herself when she introduces a flashback of Mrs Thornton’s past experience: a violent attack to a mill, in which she found herself involved in the defence of the mill owner against the rage of his workers. This episode in chapter XV, Masters and Men, anticipates what will happen to Margaret at Marlborough Mill.
‘A strike!’ asked Margaret. ‘What for? What are they going to strike for?’
‘For the mastership and ownership of other people’s property,’ said Mrs. Thornton, with a fierce snort. ‘That is what they always strike for. If my son’s work-people strike, I will only say they are a pack of ungrateful hounds. But I have no doubt they will.’
‘Does it not make the town very rough?’ asked Margaret.
‘Of course it does. But surely you are not a coward, are you? Milton is not the place for cowards. I have known the time when I have had to thread my way through a crowd of white, angry men, all swearing they would have Makinson’s blood as soon as he ventured to show his nose out of his factory; and he, knowing nothing of it, some one had to go and tell him, or he was a dead man, and it needed to be a woman,–so I went. And when I had got in, I could not get out. It was as much as my life was worth. So I went up to the roof, where there were stones piled ready to drop on the heads of the crowd, if they tried to force the factory doors. And I would have lifted those heavy stones, and dropped them with as good an aim as the best man there, but that I fainted with the heat I had gone through. 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.’ (p.116)
She will soon prove herself brave – but also impulsive, imprudent and prejudiced – in the episode of the attack to Marlborough Mill when she will finally shield Mr Thornton against the fury of the mob with her own body (chapter XXII, A Blow and its Consequences)
On that very occasion both Margaret and Mrs Thornton are entrapped in the house and hear the fury of the crowd of workers approaching the mill, but both refuse to find a refuge upstairs, both firmly reject the invitation to protect themselves and show a similar temper while facing danger.
Mrs Thornton has been embittered by the tragic events in her life (her husband killed himself leaving her and two young children face the consequences of his bankruptcy) .
Margaret Hale is an inspirational example of bravery, determination, and selflessness. She loses everything that she loves, yet she clings to her duty, to her faith in God, to hope. Margaret is not one to shirk responsability. She’s the strongest in her family and she bears and faces pain and sorrow without ever complaining :
“They could not understand how her heart was aching all the time, with a heavy pressure that no sighs could lift off or relieve, and how constant exertion for her perceptive faculties was the only way to keep herself from crying out with pain. Moreover, if she gave way, who would act” (p. 54)?
Later on, she will suffer silently Mr Thornton’s blame and despise in order to protect her brother Frederick’s secret, she will endure incredible loss (Bessy’s, her mother’s and her father’s deaths) with great dignity. Her journey through the story is incredibly tragic but she never loses her faith nor stops fighting for what she believes in. She won’t be stopped by any stern look from Mrs Thornton in her passionate love for John, don’t you believe so?
In a Freudian, psychoanalytical reading of the story, it is obvious that John has chosen a partner so very similar to his mother, which shows he could be mother-fixated (Oedipus complex) . But that makes everything so terribly sad and unromantic!
Do you think John falls for Margaret because she reminds him his mother?And most of all, do you think Margaret Hale and Mrs Thornton get along well in the end?