Gaskell provides the final summation of attitudes about the agricultural and urban sectors that had been investigated by Stone, Kingsley, and Cooke Taylor, integrating these into the consciousness of a middle-class woman. Margaret realizes that if "I live in a factory town, I must speak factory language when I want it" (281). When she goes to London after the death of her parents, she finds it deadening, "a strange unsatisfied vacuum" (445). With her experience of both the northern and the southern counties, Margaret Hale functions as a reader surrogate in evaluating cultural differences. By this strategy, Gaskell locates such comparisons in her character's consciousness rather than in the narrator's, as had been the case in Mary Barton with the narrator evaluating the diverse social positions.

Gaskell registers these changes by a unifying image of the rose. She remarks early that the roses grow all over the cottages. Margaret is shown picking roses, but the change comes when Margaret sees the cheap paper on the walls in Milton: "You must prepare yourself for our drawing-room paper. Pink and blue roses, with yellow leaves!" (73). That these roses are associated with Margaret is apparent in Mrs. Thornton's hostility to her for snubbing her son: "Her sharp Damascus blade seemed out of place and useless among rose-leaves" (374). When Margaret visits Helstone again she sees "the garden, the grass-plat, formerly so daintily trim that even a stray rose-leaf seemed like a fleck on its exquisite arrangement and propriety, was strewed with children's things; a bag of marbles here, a hoop there; a straw hat forced down upon a rose-tree as on a peg, to the destruction of a long, beautiful, tender branch laden with flowers" (469). At the novel's conclusion Thornton gives her a dead rose from Helstone, marking her assimilation to a new order, the dominance of agriculture by industry.


Victorian Web Overview North and South Elizabeth Gaskell

Last modified 1994