North and South

Gender in the Moral and Political Arena in Gaskell’s North and South

One can see easily that Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a novel that presents us with many dualities, sets of matching or opposing pairs. Not only does the title suggest this, but a quick glance through the chapter headings will say the same: “Roses and Thorns,” “Masters and Men,” “Likes and Dislikes,” “Comfort in Sorrow,” “False and True,” to name just the most obvious few. Of course, opposing or otherwise complexly intertwined pairs figure largely thematically as well. One of the most salient of these pairs is masculine and feminine, but Gaskell joins that with another pair, moral strength versus political strength. These two pairs are embodied in her two protagonists, Margaret Hale and John Thornton. The two are perfectly matched in their diametrical clashing, with Margaret Hale the femininely moral and John Thornton the masculinely political. Through their interactions with each other and Margaret’s personal changes, Gaskell explores the combinations of influences possible between these four aspects.

The identification of Margaret with the moral and Thornton with the political is clear from almost any of their conversations (or debates) with each other. In a pivotal discussion where their two primary ideologies...

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