The Outsider in North and South, a Novel by Elizabeth Gaskell

Last Updated: 13 Mar 2023
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Margaret l-lale the heroine in the novel North and South written by Elizabeth Gaskell can be defined as a heroine since it is her actions and beliefs that cause a change in the relationship between the masters and the working class for the better What enables her to be the heroine in a novel set in a time when men were the power holders is that she does not fit into any one aspect of society. This unique quality found in Margaret qualifies her as an outsider since she does not follow the norms set forth by the rules of class and gender roles nor does she fall neatly into any specific pigeonhole of society Therefore it is easy for her to move about the different sections of life and gain a clearer understanding of the roles of the different classes and also gain a sympathy for both sides, which allows her to be the voice of reason in a place where class dictates everything and create the change necessary for growth.

Many of the reasons that Margaret finds herself on the outside of class definitions and gender expectations come from her upbringing, She spent most of her life living in a house in London with her wealthy aunt and cousin while still going back and forth to Helstone, her true home where her parents resided and father worked as a Pastor, for the holidays. This shows that from her childhood she was placed in the middle of two worlds with never quite fitted into either since in London she lived in a world of luxuries and city life with relatives but additionally went back to be apart of her true home of rural. Helstone where she got to enjoy the freedom of a more pastoral existence with her actual family Henceforth even though her home was Helstone with her parents she was still an outsider to that world from her experiences in London but on the other hand in London, she did not truly fit in because it was not her home.

This aspect of Margaret’s life in which she is always an outsider in the means of location are then even further emphasized in her moving from Helstone to Milton. This move is a drastic one because she is going from the simple and agricultural ideals of the South to the Northern city of Milton which is based on a factory lifestyle with urban ideals and class relations that Margaret is not used to, which then immediately classifies her as an outsider. Never having just one home to call her own opened the doors to Margaret being an outsider since she never belonged to one set location and was always moving about which shows why she then has the power to do the same thing between classes. However, she is not solely an outsider because of her position in class and location but because of her attitude toward them. Her disposition can be traced back to her relationship with her father and what values and attitudes the interactions between Margaret and Mr, Hale left her with.

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During the Victorian age men were supposed to be powerful figures, who were hard-working so that they would be able to provide the necessities of life for their women and children as well as take charge of family affairs nevertheless this description does not include Mi: Halei On the contrary he is seen to be a weak powerless figure who makes selfish decisions rather than those based on his family’s well being. When he decides to leave the church and uproot his family he shows his true characteristics, which are extreme cowardice and selfishness. He makes this decision without ever talking to his wife about it and because he fears his own inability to make a decision and stand by it he uses it as an excuse as to why he has not informed his wife of his choice to rearrange her and Margaret‘s life with his. Then instead of resolving to be the one to tell her he cowardly passes that responsibility on to his daughter Margaret.

In fact, he skates away from most of his responsibilities, which then all fall into the hands of Margaret to take hold of. It is Margaret who handles most of the aspects of their move from Helstone to Milton and then with the income of Mrs Hale’s sickness, it is Margaret who takes charge of the situation by taking care of her mother and dealing with the doctors. It is not her husband who according to society’s standing was supposed to hold the role of power in the family. It is Mr, Hale‘s lack of a proper the male role, which allows Margaret to stray from the social norms. She finds herself in roles of power and responsibility that most women of the Victorian age would not have, therefore placing her once again in the role of an outsider. This sense of power that Margaret developed paired with her role as an outsider to what society suspects of a woman in her class allows her to be able to go back and forth between the owners and the working class once she is in Milton and this is shown by her relationships with both the.

Thorton and Higgins families By befriending families from both classes she was able to use her status of an outsider to act as an intermediary and bring both sides together. In the novel it is Thorton who acts as a representative for the middle class and is the factory owner in Milton whereas Nicholas Higgins is just a worker in one of the factories embodying the role of the working class.  The clash between these two classes can be simplified to the fact that one has money and one does not and due to a lack of communication neither side understands the other's situation or plight. This is shown in the quote by Nicholas Higgins when he says: Why, yo’ see, there is five or six masters who have set themselves again’ paying the wages they’ve been paying these two years past, and flourishing upon, and getting richer upon. And now they come to us, and say we are to take less. And we won‘t. We’ll just clem them to death first.

By Nicholas saying that he does not understand the factory owners trying to decrease the wages during a financial crisis when the workers need the money demonstrates that he is not aware of the other side of the issue in which the factory owners need to lower the wages in order to make a profit during the same financial crisis that they are experiencing at the same time showing the disconnect between classes. This lack of communication is exactly why a character that is on the outside of all the dealings is able to act as a mediator between the sides of the classes. Whereas most members of the middle class would dismiss the ideas and thoughts of the working class Margaret befriends them and gets to know them on a personal level. In fact Margaret insults her mother when she starts to use their slang but instead of shying away from it she is proud of her ability to sound like them and this is shown in the quote, “And if I live in a factory town, I must speak factory language when I want it.

Why, mamma, I could astonish you with a great many words you never heard in your life”. This shows Margaret‘s relation and closeness to the members of the working class yet this is not the only relationship she has in the novel. She becomes emotionally attached to Thonon as well and actually has a romance start with him. Her role as an outsider in Milton enabled her to mingle with men from both class sections, which allows the reader to see the stark contrast between the middle class and working class but also opens the door for a coming together through Margaret. Away Gaskell uses Margaret’s ability to going in between the classes is to juxtapose the lives of the owners and workers by having her visit families from both end of the spectrum. By doing this it gives the reader a clear picture in the differences of how they live. An example of this is shown when Margaret visits the Thorton House in which she describes it in such grandeur terms noticing the.

“The window curtains were lace; each chair and sofa had its own particular veil of netting, or knitting. Great alabaster groups occupied every flat surface, safe from dust under their shades". Everything in the house was in pristine condition so that they would be able to show off their wealth this is then brought into extreme contrast to the factory workers' home that have two families living in one home, which includes over six children. The juxtaposition of the lifestyle is demonstrated greatly here that the Thonon’s have space and room and that do not even get used or touch but the Higgins and Boucher family have to live together and make due with little space. Besides Margaret's relationship with both classes being used as a way to compare their lifestyle, it is also the way the two classes come together.

Margaret gains an influence over Thorton through their relationship, which allows him to be changed throughout the novel and become more humanized, which makes him a better boss. In the beginning he does not think his workers deserve explanations on any decisions he makes involving his business and says, ““Do you give your servants reasons for your expenditure, or your economy in the use of your own money? We, the owners of capital, have a right to choose what we will do with it”. Marget‘s response to Thorton’s claim that it is his factory and his decisions is, “I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way yet each evidently regarding the interests of the others as opposed to their own”. By Margaret saying this to Thorton it is her trying to get him to see clarity that she sees by being an outsider and that is that both classes need each other to succeed and both would be better off if they cared for one another rather than repeatedly putting the other down all the time.

Ultimately Margaret gets Thorton to see her side of the claim and is even the one who was able to influence Thorton to go down during the strike and try to communicate with his workers. By the end of the novel Thorton is listening to his workers and even listens to one of Nicholas Higgins’ ideas to build a dining room for the workers to eat in after reemploying him even though he was one of the strike leaders It is seen that Margaret was able to inform Thorton of the issues of the working class and bring them together in a way that they can work together better. This ending would not have been a possibility if Margaret was not able to move about between the classes and experience both sides of the coins which gave her clarity needed to fix the situation. Therefore it is Margaret’s inability to fit into the social norms, thus being an outsider, which allows for the ending of the novel where the classes come together in an understanding for better business under Margaret's influence.

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The Outsider in North and South, a Novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. (2023, Mar 13). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/the-outsider-in-north-and-south-a-novel-by-elizabeth-gaskell/

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