North and South is set in the mid nineteenth century at the time of the industrial revolution. It is an industrial novel, which means that it portrays the difficult lives of the working class during the industrial revolution. This was a genre with few female writers; due to the “seriousness” of the work, it was not considered appropriate for women. The riot scene is a watershed, a turning point, much like the industrial revolution in the 19th century. The themes are … It is a book of contrasts. Mr Thornton represents the business-minded north and is juxtaposed with Margaret Hale who represents the rich, delicate south. The violence of the riot scene causes understanding and what the characters have done wrong. It shows us that our impressions of the characters are wrong and their impressions of each other. Everyone has misjudged each other. Gaskell is challenging her Victorian readers’ black and white stereotypes and asking them to revaluate their views.
The North-South divide exists in Great Britain. It refers to both the economic and the cultural differences between South England and North. The North is usually seen as poorer and more left wing, and the South as richer and more right wing. The South can be seen as much more comfortable, and a place where a better class of people live, shown in the contrasting descriptions of Helstone and Milton. Helston is deascribed to be, “it really sounded like a village in a tale rather than in real life.” And the sky in Milton is described to be darker than Helston’s wintry blue, foreshadowing the later storm. This was particularly so in the Victorian period, that North and South is set right in the middle of, when the North became increasingly industrialised and polluted.
In the novel the place that Margaret has grown up in, the fictional village of Helstone is in the South. It is a gentle place and is described as “like a village in a poem” which tells the reader how beautiful it is. However, Margaret’s first view of the industrial Milton (The Northern town that she moves to) is the “deep lead-coloured cloud hanging over the horizon” She dislikes Milton at first, but slowly falls in love with the spirit and enterprise of the people. She realises that behind the machines that seem to run Milton there are real people and families. Her friend Bessie helps her understand this. That’s why her views change. North and South argues that the Industrial North represents the future, with Margaret gradual conversion from Helstone to Milton. Milton is based on Gaskell’s knowledge of Manchester. At the time Manchester was the “jewel in the crown” of the industrial north.
Mr Thornton is a factory owner in Milton who Margaret eventually falls in love with. He is described as having a sharp and angular face, making him appear chiselled, as if he is made from stone. This accentuates his tough inflexible nature. “as if they were carved in marble.” He is described as an “iron man” which could suggest his machine like qualities and industrialist nature which was common in the north during the Industrial Revolution. He represents the hard working Northern factory owners, business and shows that there were real men behind harsh masters. He is the opposite of Margaret. The riot scene is where Mr Thornton and Margaret are thrown together.
This represents the union of north and south, and how they should work together and protect each other. In the riot scene Thornton changes from cold (before the scene) to caring “Miss Hale is hurt!” to romantic “You are the only woman I have ever loved! The women in the extract depend on him and his instructions, making them all typical of the time “Shut down the windows instantly mother” When Margaret is hit by the pebble it is like a wall between them (Margaret’s pride) has been broken, and it allows Thornton to step forward and take control. Another thing that allows us to see another aspect of him is that he takes lessons from Mr Hale, which shows us he is a sensitive man, and he is an unusual factory owner. The workers hate him, and view him as cruel and harsh.
This is because most of his actions are fuelled by wanting more money, not humanitarianism. For example, when he installs a new fan in the factory. It makes the workers more comfortable because it reduces the amount of cotton in their lungs, but Mr Thornton did it because he wanted them to live longer, to maintain an experienced workforce. . He altered his chimneys which reduced smoke emission but this was to save fuel, not the environment. In the workers’ view they have an unfair deal. This is why they strike. After the riot scene the workers and Thornton better understand each other, because the workers see that he is human because of his love for Margaret. He is proud of Milton’s industry and he realises the extent of their desperation.
Margaret is a very proud and strong woman. Other people view her as overly proud and judgemental. “always gave strangers the impression of haughtiness” “Her quiet coldness of demeanour he interpreted into contemptuousness.” She is an atypical Victorian woman because she is strong and complex, but in the riot scene she becomes a typical Victorian woman, who needs someone to protect her. She lets Mr Thornton tell her what to do. As a southern gentlewoman she views Milton as “regularly built” meaning everything is the same, and dull and boring. She sees the “hopeless streets” and regrets moving to Milton. She usually contrasts to Mr Thornton’s sister, Fanny, but in the riot scene she becomes more like her, being defenceless and acting on instinct, without careful measured thought. She is described as “far from regularly beautiful” which could also mean that she is far from regular in her actions and demeanour.
When she does move to Milton she tries to make the most of it, instead of complaining about it. She tries to help people, and offers charity even though they don’t want it. This is different to Thornton, but it doesn’t necessarily make her better than him because it can seem condescending to whoever she decides to help. She doesn’t understand the Milton way of life and feels she doesn’t fit in, but when she visits Helstone again she realises she has changed, and she no longer belongs there. The reader sees, along with Margaret, that Helstone has always been to her a mythical place linked to her more closely with idyllic romantic dreams than with the realities of nineteenth-century life.
When Thornton gives her the dead rose from Helstone it symbolises that Helstone doesn’t mean anything to her now, because she used to talk about the roses, but the rose is dead now, symbolising that her life in Helstone is no more.
The workers are considered by the factory owners to be animalistic and unthinking, represented by Gaskell’s use of language, “fierce growl” “troop of animals”. Higgins is the atypical character in that group because he is clever. He is a union leader and naturally takes control. He is the voice of the workers. He is not in the riot, and is very angry that the strike has broken. He represents change, passion and aggression. He is bullying. In the riot scene Gaskell uses descriptions of the weather to represent the idea of the workers as a gathering storm “roll of the tempest”
The riot scene is a turning point in the novel. It is the point where Gaskell makes her main point about society at the time. The characters weaknesses and strengths are showcased and Margaret and Thornton become symbols of society at the time. The characters that before had all been so complex and unusual become more archetypal and in keeping with the more common character type. They all change and become more human, allowing them to connect. Only when they let their guard down can they understand. It is hot at the beginning of the extract because a storm is brewing, both metaphorically and physically.
The feeling of the extract changes a lot, one of the more important and obvious place is where Thornton runs downstairs to the workers. The section is in short segmented sentences so it’s a list and reads really quickly. It creates the effect of a rush and the reader feels the anxiety of the characters. Another point where the tension and atmosphere change is where Mr Thornton makes his declaration of love to Margaret when she has been hit with the pebble. The symbolic value of this is that the wall between them (their cold exteriors) has been damaged and so their emotions can leak out. It becomes much more romantic.
Metaphors are a key part of the riot extract. One of the ongoing ones is of the workers being animalistic, with them being referred to as “brutes” and “fierce”. They also “growl”. This makes us fear for the safety of the characters, as animals are unpredictable. The workers contrast to Higgins because he acts rationally, in a carefully thought out way but the rest of the workers act on instinct, like animals. We feel sorry for them because of their unthinking nature and we feel scared of them because of the threatening vocabulary used to describe them.
There are constant references to a storm, for example “the first slow-surging wave” This is referring to the workers and makes the reader think of them as powerful and unstoppable. “towards one point” means the workers are focused on Thornton, and that there is no going back. This makes the reader feel worried for Thornton. The feeling of going past the point of no return is perhaps Gaskell referring to Victorian society, and what may occur if the misunderstanding carries on.
Symbolism is used a lot in the riot scene. There are symbols of division “mighty fall of the ponderous gates”, desperation “unearthly groan”, and passion “you are the only woman I have ever loved!”. It is evident that the idea of division becomes more pronounced in the riot scene. For example the gate being broken is symbolic of the divided breaking down the walls of society.
Many conflicts happen in North and South. Some of them are ongoing, like with Margaret and Mr Thornton. Some of them burst suddenly, like in the riot scene between Mr Thornton and the workers.
These two conflicts are linked by the cold feelings, which change after the riot scene. Conflict is one of the main themes of the book. The riot scene causes conflict because it forces people together and forces debate between people. There is no fight between the workers and Margaret but still she is hurt. They have stepped outside of the set conflicts and so Mr Thornton is angry. This prepares us for reconciliation because their anger has peaked and will now decline to a flat and will become steadier.
Margaret’s brother Frederick is involved in a mutiny, and is held responsible for it and exiled from England. It is a similar situation to the workers, which is one reason why Margaret understands their point of view.
Gaskell uses many techniques to present Margaret Thornton and the workers. She is commenting on Victorian society that this misunderstanding of North and South is wrong and that they should try harder to understand each other.