North and South

North and South Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXI-XXIV


Chapter 21

Margaret and her father walked home from the party, speaking of Mr. Thornton's manner. Margaret found him cool and assertive but wondered at the un-Christian aspect of his behavior toward the strike. Mr. Hale wondered why his daughter did not like him more, as she usually liked people of his personality. She replied that he was the first manufacturer that she had ever known and needed time to process and study him.

When the father and daughter arrived home Dixon met them at the door, crying out in anguish that Mrs. Hale was worse and that the doctor was there. Dr. Donaldson met them and told them that Mrs. Hale was resting now, as she had taken an opiate, but was still poor. Mr. Hale was shocked since he had not hitherto known how ill she was. It was clear in her face that "Death had signed her for his own." He rebuked Margaret for not telling him but the Doctor quickly stood up for her and said it was his command.

The doctor told them that they did not have to worry about her perishing yet, but there was no hope for full recovery. That night Margaret stayed in her mother's room, her senses sharpened and the ability to sleep utterly absent. She sat there ruminating on the transience of life.

In the morning Mrs. Hale herself was slightly surprised that she had been so ill the night before. Dr. Donaldson said that a water-bed might help her be more comfortable, and Margaret agreed to ask Mrs. Thornton for the use of hers.

Margaret left her house and headed to the Thornton's. As she was oppressed in spirits, she barely noticed what was going on around her in the streets: there was "an unusual heaving among the mass of people in the crowded road on which she was entering." There was a "restless, oppressive sense of irritation abroad among the people; a thunderous atmosphere, morally as well as physically, around her." She did not know what it meant, especially as she was occupied with thoughts of being imminently motherless. She arrived at the Thornton house, noticing how there was no sound of machinery, only the deep thrumming of the nearing crowd.

Chapter 22

Margaret was shown into the drawing room and waited for some time until Fanny came in. she explained that her brother had hired hands from Ireland, which so incensed the workingmen that they began to threaten the Irish who were now holed up in the mill, where they were to eat and sleep until the rabble calmed down.

Mrs. Thornton came in and listened halfheartedly to Margaret until her attention was called to the window where the crowd had gathered. The women looked out on them, fascinated and terrified. Mr. Thornton came in. His commanding and well-known voice seemed to infuriate and provoke the people outside, but his face expressed only defiance and determination. He was surprised to see Margaret and apologized to her that she was here at such a time. He told the women that the soldiers would be there in twenty minutes. Fanny fainted, but Margaret still looked at the crowd outside, spotting Boucher among them. Mr. Thornton also looked, and when they saw his face, "they set up a yell –to call it human is nothing, -it was as the demoniac desire of some terrible wild beast for the food that is withheld from his ravening."

Trembling, Margaret commanded Mr. Thornton to go down and speak to them like a man, and to explain to them the situation. A dark cloud passed over his face but he agreed, and went out to the front stoop. Margaret watched from the window; she could not see the mill owner or hear anything, but she saw that the crowd grew angrier than ever and tried to intimidate Mr. Thornton. She saw people picking up things that they might throw, and without thinking, rushed downstairs, pulled open the door and put herself at Mr. Thornton's side, and admonished the people and told them to go home because the soldiers were coming. The people were past the point of reasoning, however; a rock was thrown and struck Margaret instead of the man to whom their anger was truly directed.

Mr. Thornton yelled angrily at the crowd, and a retreating movement began back near the gates. Even the most desperate men, including Boucher, scowled and backed off. Margaret lay on the ground, trying to rouse herself and weakly saying she was fine. She fainted again, and Mr. Thornton was overcome, voicing his conviction that she was the only woman he had ever loved. He brought her inside. As his mother bathed the girl's temples with cologne, he marveled at Margaret's actions –did she throw her arms around him and protect him because she loved him?

Mrs. Thornton decided that she would go fetch a surgeon, as her servants were too timid. While she was gone one of the servants told Fanny she had seen Miss Hale throw her arms around Mr. Thornton as if she loved him. Fanny was incredulous, but kept waiting nervously for her mother to return. Finally the elder woman brought a surgeon back with her, but by that time Margaret insisted she was okay and that she needed to walk home. No mention was to be made to her parents, and her wound was not visible.

Fanny whispered to her mother what the servant had seen.

Chapter XXIII

Mr. Thornton came back into the room, immediately noticing Margaret was gone and inquiring of his mother where she was. He did not notice her cold manner, but when he expressed that he did not know what he would have done without her and Mrs. Thornton responded that "a girl in love will do a great deal," he grew fiercely angry, prideful, doubtful, and surprised. His mother could barely fathom this expression and his evident attempt to control his violent feelings.

After a moment of silence she asked him if he had done something about the rioters, and he replied calmly that he had and was also in the process of procuring a guard for the premises. He abruptly said he was leaving to check on Miss Hale after he spoke with the police. His mother convinced him to go tomorrow after his business was completed, as it was now too late in the evening.

Mr. Thornton was clear and unmovable in his opinion on what must result of the riot –"punishment and suffering, where the natural consequences to those who had taken part in the riot."

Later that night he asked his mother, "You know what I have got to say to Miss Hale, tomorrow?" she replied, "Yes! I do. You can hardly do otherwise." He was confused, and his mother explained that he was bound in honor to her now. He scoffed at this perspective, and said he could not believe she cared for him. He would still put himself at her feet but he did not expect her to be in love with him as well. Mrs. Thornton could only manage to say that he should not fear and perhaps she did love him, but needed to get over her pride. After he left, however, she went up into her room and burst into jealous tears.

When Margaret came in her father noticed she looked wan but did not press the matter further. Bessy had sent a note asking her to come over but she could not. When she went up to her room she finally allowed herself to reflect on the events of the day. She believed she had done some good but was embarrassed that all those people must have thought she was in love with Mr. Thornton. She knew she was pure before God and would have done that for anyone in a similarly unfair situation. When she finally fell asleep after exhausting these passionate thoughts, "she was so tired, so stunned, that she thought she never slept at all; her feverish thoughts passed and repassed the boundary between sleeping and waking, and kept their own miserable identity."

Chapter XXIV

When Margaret woke up the next day she was unrefreshed yet rested, and was full of resolutions: help her mother dress, visit Bessy, and banish any thoughts of the Thorntons. This quickly proved impossible since Dixon informed her Mr. Thornton was downstairs asking for her.

He waited by the windows, his heart beating with anticipation. He was a strong man but afraid of her rejection. He impatiently thought of whether or not there was a possibility of her throwing her arms around him again like she had done the previous day. When she came in he observed how wan, pale, and quiet she seemed. She looked like "some prisoner, falsely accused of a crime that she loathed and despised."

He started by saying that he may have seemed grateful yesterday, but she stopped him and said her reaction was only what any woman would have done. She knew he wanted to apologize, however, and let him proceed. He was a little perturbed at her calm manner, but told her he believed he owed his life to her, and, after a moment or two, confessed that he loved her as he had never loved another woman before.

Margaret was flummoxed but her tone was icy: "Your way of speaking shocks me. It is blasphemous...your whole manner offends me..." He exclaimed, "How! Offends you! I am indeed most unfortunate." She said that her behavior yesterday was misunderstood for love –blushing all the while, however –and that a real gentleman would have perceived that it was an action anyone might take. He contemptuously said he was entitled to his opinion, and that she did not understand him. She coldly replied she did not wish to. On his way out he informed her that he had never loved any woman before and would persist in loving her now, despite her lack of reciprocity. She changed her tone and asked if they could stop making each other angry for her father's sake. Without a word in response he left. She thought she had seen a gleam of tears in his eyes, which "turned her proud dislike into something different and kinder, if nearly as painful –self-reproach for having caused such mortification to anyone."


Philanthropy is a large component of this novel. Pamela Corpron Parker's article on female philanthropy in North and South and another of Gaskell's novels, Mary Barton, limns a rhetoric of fictional philanthropy in that the author "positions her literary contributions as benevolent gifts to an ignorant and needy reading public" and attempts to comfort suffering workers that "the upper classes are not without compassion." She begins her article by discussing the unparalleled support charitable organizations enjoyed during the mid-19th century, and how the "discourse and practices" of philanthropy were present in almost every aspect of Victorian life.

Women were seen as particularly suited for philanthropic activity due to the prevailing gender norms that saw them as paragons of domestic expertise and sympathy, and their ability to discern the deserving poor from those who were unworthy of charity. This view of women as the guardians of the home and the deliverers of charity was, of course, rooted in their subordinate status in society. Parker also calls attention to the fact that Victorian philanthropists and writers called attention to the greater moral authority in their professions in which they did good work. They had more access to the public sphere and had more political influence. Some female novelists combined their writing and philanthropic careers.

In North and South Margaret is an excellent and appropriate example of female philanthropy and a figure that facilitates greater understanding of the "complexities of industrial relations." Margaret's first interest in Milton is the Higgins family. To Bessy, the young girl dying from the unhealthy conditions in her factory, Margaret represents a world she can never be part of. She even reacts in passionate anger a few times. Margaret's condescension and complacence to Bessy can be somewhat startling to the reader, as Parker notes. However, while Margaret views her interaction with the Higgins family as primarily moral, she also does more valuable things; she provides Mary with employment and helps moderate between Higgins and Thornton.

Parker sees Margaret's involvement with the Higgins family as not necessarily an example of her egalitarian and sympathetic character, but as "necessary to bolster her own sense of class superiority." The theory that an individual's philanthropy might actually do more harm than good is tested; the basket Mrs. Hale sends to Boucher's children is not used well. Mr. Hale also has no idea what reality is like for the lower classes; when he tells Boucher's widow merely to trust in God after her husband commits suicide, "his woefully inadequate and impractical platitude is clearly the luxury of one who has never faced the specter of his family's starvation."

However, at the end of the novel Margaret's philanthropy, which is now aimed at a member of her own class –Mr. Thornton –is productive and ideal. Investing in industry saves workers' jobs and returns financial interest to her. Thornton has realized that human business practices are more satisfactory and beneficial to all involved, and "once his individualistic self-interest is balanced with Margaret's 'human interest,' he becomes a worthy business and domestic partner for her." Individual philanthropy has to be balanced by ethical business practices by capitalists and men and women should work together.