How did Miss Margaret Hale view the North at the beginning of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South? How and why did her views change?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South, Miss Margaret Hale has returned home to the village of Helstone in southern England. Although the village itself is portrayed as remote, and Margaret as finding the parsonage somewhat limited compared with London, the natural surroundings are described as lovely and Margaret herself as very much enjoying them:

 The forest trees were all one dark, full, dusky green; the fern below them caught all the slanting sunbeams; the weather was sultry and broodingly still. Margaret used to tramp along by her father's side, crushing down the fern with a cruel glee, as she felt it yield under her light foot, and send up the fragrance peculiar to it,—out on the broad commons into the warm scented light, seeing multitudes of wild, free, living creatures, revelling in the sunshine, and the herbs and flowers it called forth. 

When her father's theological doubts lead him to resign from his priesthood in the Church of England, he most move from his position in a comfortable rectory in an affluent rural area to the industrial North, in particular the town of Milton-Northern in Darkshire. The city is described as crowded and smog-filled:

For several miles before they reached Milton, they saw a deep lead-coloured cloud hanging over the horizon in the direction in which it lay. ... Nearer to the town, the air had a faint taste and smell of smoke; perhaps, after all, more a loss of the fragrance of grass and herbage than any positive taste or smell. ...  Here and there a great oblong many-windowed factory stood up, ... puffing out black 'unparliamentary' smoke ...; great loaded lorries blocked up the not over-wide thoroughfares.

The main changes in her attitude are due to her better getting to know the people of Milton, especially Betsy Higgins and Mr. Thornton, and to becoming actively engaged in philanthropy. As she becomes better acquainted with her friends in Milton, rather than condemning their manners because they are unfamiliar, she begins to appreciate their honesty and strength, and realizes that her social prejudices were born of narrow-mindedness. In a sense, it is her own growth in wisdom and the broadening of her sympathies that changes her attitude.

[Quotations Chapters II and VII:]

Read the study guide:
North and South

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question