The Role of Nature in “North and South”

“Her out-of-doors life was perfect. Her in-doors life had its drawbacks”.

The ways in which people create distinctions in their lives reveals what they hold near and dear to their hearts. As a student, I make a distinction between my academic life and my social life. Although there are exceptions, they generally take place in different settings and  have very different attributes. This is also true for Margaret. First off, are these words, Gaskell’s words, or Margaret’s thoughts? I interpreted this as Margaret’s thoughts about the dimensions of her life. She lives two lives. The distinction is their settings: one life takes place in the outdoors while the other takes place indoors. In the fashion of our close reading assignment, I heavily analyzed these two worlds. What are doors? Doors connote closure and isolation, similar to a fence of an enclosure. They are partitions. Outside of doors, there is environmental freedom: one can move and travel around. In this time period, life inside of doors, in institutions like the home, school, or workplace, the cult of domesticity was well-known and status-quo. These are pressures and chains that do not exist “out-of-doors”.

“Are those the Gormans who made their fortunes in trade at Southampton? I’m glad we don’t visit them. I don’t like shoppy people. I think we are far better off, knowing only cottagers and laborers, and people without presence”… “I call mine a very comprehensive taste; I like all people whose occupations have to do with land” (19)

This charged opinion of Margaret’s reveals her priorities. Defying the status-quo, she rejects the social hierarchy and prefers “simpletons” over the rich and well-to-do, which is an unheard-of opinion in this time. Margaret approves of people “whose occupations have to do with the land” instead of the Gorman trade family. This has a strong socioeconomic relation. In this period, more money meant prominence and respect. Margaret will not follow this trend. She prefers common laborers. Why does she mention “land”? She finds purity and goodness in the earth. Helstone, for example, is like a garden of eden for her. It is a wild oasis of freedom. She associates nature and land with value.



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