When Margaret Hale arrives in the grim, smoky, industrialized town of Milton in the north of England after living in the leafy, rural south, she is at first shocked and upset with her new surroundings. The place seems ugly and the ways of the people crude. Yet, as Margaret gets involved in the life of the community and the plight of factory workers, her perspective broadens, and her sympathies grow. Although middle class, she comes to side with the workers against the mill owners.
Margaret has a great sense of duty to the wider world and an empathy and sensitivity to the plight of the poor, but she is also proud and can tend to feel superior to people, even as she is doing her best to help them. However, living in the industrialized society of Milton does have a humbling effect on her character. This new humility enables her to see the worth in and finally marry John Thornton. The harshness of life in the industrial north has helped her to perceive her own need to find her place in the social order and safety in marriage.