North and South

Women, Independence and Financial Status in the North and the South

In order to highlight the underestimated value of women in Victorian society, Elizabeth Gaskell develops the character of Margaret: a powerful and independent woman who does not allow herself to adhere to patriarchal Victorian conventions. Through Margaret’s confident attitude, Gaskell proves that women can be successful and independent. However, the disabled and unhappy character of Bessy Higgins, who serves as the text’s representative woman worker of the Victorian period, contradicts this message. Throughout the novel, Bessy shows admiration and resentment for Margaret, as her driven and confident attitude seems to be exactly what Bessy lacks. However, Bessy’s low spirits and death prove her weakness and lack of perseverance. This further signifies that although Gaskell seems to promote and enforce women's independence and self-sufficiency through the character of Margaret, she seems to believe that women like Bessy with inadequate financial status have little or no hope.

From the beginning of the novel, Margaret plays the authoritative role in her family, presumably in order to prevent her parents from suffering the hardships of life. As her parents’ only child living at home, Margaret takes charge of most of the...

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