North and South

North and South Summary and Analysis of Chapters V-VIII


Chapter V

Margaret listened to her mother talk about her plans for the parishioners, feeling inward stabs of pain when she realized she would not be there to help much longer. That evening she could not sleep, and sat in her window seat, wondering what doubts her father had had to make him a schismatic. Her father came in her room to interrupt her pensive midnight reverie and prayed with her.

The next morning her father announced his intention to leave the house to call on several villagers; this was the sign for Margaret to speak with her mother. Summoning her courage, she told her mother that Mr. Hale was going to leave the Church and they were to move to Milton-Northern. Her mother was shocked, and Margaret admitted to herself that her mother should have been told, not kept in ignorance. At least her father's intentions were pure, but it was still a blow to Mrs. Hale. After asking Margaret several questions, she began to ponder the dirtiness of the air and the coarseness of factory town people. Margaret did not want to stand up for them, but explained that they need not have anything to do with such folk. Margaret was glad when her mother's mind turned to thoughts of moving furniture, hoping her father would not meet with rage when he came home.

Thankfully Mrs. Hale observed in her husband's face something quite pitiful, and ran to meet him when he entered the drawing-room. That evening Margaret was annoyed with the servant woman, Dixon, for criticizing Mr. Hale. She rebuked Dixon and sent her out of the room.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of packing up the house. Margaret was glad when her mother fell ill if only to keep her from meddling in the difficult process. Margaret asked her father if he had looked for lodging yet, noting her mother's poor health. He replied that he had not and that it would be arduous since they had less money. Margaret sighed and remembered the days when the biggest decision she had to make was what dress to wear for dinner; now "every day brought some question, momentous to her, and to those whom she loved, to be settled." She did, however, light upon an idea: to send her mother and Dixon to a small town at the sea not far from Milton-Northern where they could stay while she and her father looked for lodging. He agreed with this, and the matter was settled.

Chapter VI

The house was packed up and had a strange echoing, empty sound. The following day was the appointed time for departure, and Margaret tried to retain outward calm and assertiveness. No one could tell how her heart was actually breaking. Before the family left she took a walk outside and lighted upon the spot where Henry Lennox proposed marriage to her. She wondered where he was now and marveled at how things had changed.

The next day the railroad time passed quickly and the Hales found themselves traveling to London where they were to spend the night. Margaret watched familiar sights pass before her eyes while Mrs. Hale cried many times along the journey. To her surprise they passed Henry Lennox, but they were on their way before greetings could be uttered, and he did not notice them. That evening in London Margaret observed how busy the residents of the great city were, and wondered at the fact that "they alone seemed strange and friendless, and desolate."

Chapter VII

In Heston, the little Northern seaside town, Margaret was already struck by the "purposelike" nature of the place; colors looked grayer, fashions were simpler, people were pleasant but busy. In their hotel Margaret felt at rest for the first time in days, and admired the sea and the sandy shore. This brief interlude of peace vanished when it came time for her and her father to venture out to Milton to look for a house.

When they reached Milton Margaret was struck by the "deep lead-coloured cloud" darkening the sky, and the faint taste of smoke that was "perhaps, after all, more a loss of the fragrance of grass and herbage than any positive smell." Houses were regular and made of brick. People were everywhere, characterized by a "slovenly looseness" in clothing. Mr. Hale remarked upon their arrival at New Street, the principal thoroughfare in Milton, and its nearness to Mr. Thornton's mill.

It was an unpleasant experience looking for lodging in the town, and Margaret and her father could not find something with the "necessary accommodation of two sitting-rooms and four bedrooms." Finally they revisited a place they visited earlier that day, and Margaret contrived a way to organize themselves in the rooms that would bring happiness to all involved. She hoped at the very least to get the wallpaper changed.

When they returned to the hotel Mr. Hale immediately stepped back out to visit the landlord of the house which they desired to rent. Margret was informed by the waiter that Mr. Thornton had called and was in the sitting room. Margaret walked into the room with a straightforward air of confidence. Her presence, rather than that of a "quiet, middle-aged clergyman" surprised Mr. Thornton. He was not sure who she was until she announced herself as the daughter of Mr. hale.

Her frank manner of speaking was unsettling; "Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to assume some kind of authority over him at once." His impatience before the Hales arrived vanished at her presence.

Margaret explained that her father would be back soon and that he had gone to speak with the landlord. The way she carried herself often gave strangers the impression that she was haughty. She was simply trying to be courteous to this stranger, and while he was conscious of his being impressed with her, she was indifferent to him and proud.

Mr. Hale returned and entered into conversation with Mr. Thornton. Margaret walked to the window to muse on the character of the street. Her father informed her that the landlord would not change the wallpaper, to her dismay. Mr. Thornton departed not long after, and Margaret commented to her father that it was difficult to talk to the man, for he "never went on with any subject, but gave little, short, abrupt answers." Mrs. Hale later asked about their caller, and Margaret informed her that he was tall, broad-shouldered, about thirty years of age, and "not quite a gentleman."

When the Hales moved into their new house, they were delighted to find the horrid wallpaper was gone; apparently a word from Mr. Thornton, the "wealthy manufacturer," was enough to convince the intransigent landlord.

Chapter VIII

Pretty wallpaper could not disguise the thick fogs that crept in and the dirty, smoky air. Mrs. Hale was despondent, and even Mr. Hale wondered if they should not have gone to Wales instead. However, they were settled in Milton and must endure. There was no money left with which to move.

Margaret tried to rouse her spirits by reading a letter from Edith, which told of her and Captain Lennox's arrival in Corfu, their Mediterranean voyage, her new house, and her happy new life. Margaret thought "Edith's life seemed like the deep vault of blue sky above her –utterly free from fleck or cloud." Margaret began thinking of her old friends, wondering if anyone ever thought of her. She believed that Henry Lennox would force himself not to think of her. This was for the best, however, as he would not have liked the family's new situation.

Mr. Hale took on several pupils recommended to him by Mr. Thornton. Most manufacturers in the town took their sons out of education when they were fourteen or fifteen, cutting off their literary cultivation and hoping their entire being would be thrown into commerce. Some families, however, wanted their sons to learn, and other older men wanted to rectify the deficit of their earlier years. Mr. Thornton was Mr. Hale's most eager, intelligent, and favorite pupil. Mrs. Hale even became jealous of how much her husband esteemed the man, feeling hurt "as if he were slighting her companionship for the first time."

Margaret tried to find a new servant to help Dixon, but Dixon was annoyed with the boldness of the young Milton girls who were impudent enough to ask questions about their possible employment. All of them, however, preferred the higher wages and independence of working in a mill.

Margaret felt uncomfortable walking about the Milton streets. She was not used to such freedom of movement and particularly disliked the side of town that had a main thoroughfare for the factory people. She often found herself on the street around the same time they rushed along from their employment. The girls admired her dress and shawl, which Margaret did not mind, but the men's boldness and admiration made her cringe inwardly.

One man complimented her "bonny face" which made his day brighter, and because he looked so careworn and downtrodden, Margaret actually smiled back. She occasionally saw him with a young woman who must have been his daughter. One day Margaret offered the girl a handful of flowers and her eyes lit up. Margaret learned the man's name was Nicholas and his daughter was Bessy, but that she was dying. The man was initially wary of Margaret's inquiry of his name and desire to visit them at their house, as she would have done in the South, but understood her good intentions and told her he would hold her to her offer. Margaret was happy for the first time since she had come to Milton; "in it she had found a human interest."


Margaret's life is irrevocably changed, and while she is inwardly grieving the loss of Helstone, she must be strong and enduring for her parents. This is only one of many times in the novel that Margaret has to repress her own grief to be a paragon of strength for her sickly mother and weak father. The three Hales first go to Heston, the seaside town where Mrs. Hale will wait with Dixon while her husband and daughter seek lodging. Margaret's opinion of Milton is an entirely negative one. She notes the dark cloud in the sky, the busyness of the people and their slovenly dress, and the incommodious houses.

Later she remarks about disliking walking about one of the busiest thoroughfares for the working people because she shrunk back from the men's bold stares and frank appreciation of her appearance. She contrasts the idyllic, quiet, and simple life of Helstone with this life of constant activity, coarse manners, and noxious climate. She objects to the families that find no merit in education and only wish their sons to grow up to be owners and masters. Thus, the girl of the South is remarkably antipathetic to the North.

In these chapters Margaret meets several individuals who will play an important role in her life. She meets Mr. Thornton, and is rather haughty and imperious in her manner towards him. She looks down on him as a manufacturer although he is one of the chief men in the town and a magistrate to boot; she says he is "not quite a gentleman" (65). These two characters' opinions will clash throughout the novel but will ultimately help make the other person more open-minded and conscientious.

She also meets Nicholas and Bessy Higgins. Bessy is deathly ill from inhaling "fluff" into her lungs at the factory where she works. She is weary of her mortal life and wishes for death as a reprieve to her pain and suffering. Her particular brand of religion leans to the millennial and the escapist; it is based almost entirely on the Book of Revelation, a fact for which Margaret later rebukes her.

Margaret is also made aware of the differences between the North and South when it comes to women. It is stated that Dixon found it disturbing that the Milton girls did not quite see what an honor it was to be working for the Hale family, and were forthright and clear in their preferences for a position in a factory. Margaret is uncomfortable being out in the public sphere at first, especially in the part of town frequented by workers. While she is not perturbed by the women and girls' frank admiration of her clothes, she is more put off by the open, bold way in which the men looked at her and commented on her appearance.