Mr. Thornton and Margaret are engaged in a conversation about men and their employers in chapter 15 of North and South. Margaret comments that she cannot understand the relationship between "the employer and the employed," and she believes that there is a constant antagonism between the two. This annoys Thornton, but he replies:

My theory is, that my interests are identical with those of my workpeople and vice-versa. Miss Hale, I know, does not like to hear men called "hands," so I won't use that word, though it comes most readily to my lips as the technical term, whose origin, whatever it was, dates before my time. On some future day-in some millenium-in Utopia, this unity may be brought into practice-just as I can fancy a republic the most perfect form of government.

Questions

1. For the first time in our readings, we come across a passage which describes men as being on the weaker and the lesser side of a comparison. By calling men "hands" and making them a weaker force, does Gaskell create her own fantasy world in which women are the ones on top?

2. Thornton's comments about Utopia and finding the perfect balance between master and man have a certain fantastic tone to them. Is this Gaskell's way of making the characters seem more real to the audience or is there another purpose behind this?

3. Thornton's reference to Plato's Republic is interesting because Plato believed that in order for man to be happy, he has to balance three parts of his soul: the appetite, the rational, and the spirit. Does Gaskell believe that man can only be happy when he is happy at work? Or is she trying to tell us that Thornton cannot satisfy the rest of his soul due to his constraints at work?


Victorian Web Overview North and South Elizabeth Gaskell

Last modified 4 March 2003