The Importance of a Handshake

There are a lot of misunderstandings that take place between Margaret Hale and the Mr. Thornton. Most of this is due to the pride of both parties, but the lack of friendship is instigated by Margaret’s unknowing coldness on the occasions when the two meet. After their first encounter, on page 64, Mr. Thornton tries to shake hands with Margaret before departing, as he had just done with Mr. and Mrs. Hale, but Margaret ignores his hand and gives a bow instead. Margaret immediately realizes her mistake, but as she does not vocalize such, Mr. Thornton interprets this as a slight and attributes it to her cold, prideful nature. Despite acknowledging her error in this scene, however, Margaret does the same thing, although less rudely, to Mr. Thornton on page 124. Again, Mr. Thornton walks away thinking she is too proud. Given Margaret’s seeming irritation in their prior conversation in which Margaret debates Mr. Thornton about working conditions and the culture of the North, it is understandable that Mr. Thornton does not think her a kind, pleasant sort of person. To Margaret, however, she sees nothing wrong with her behavior.

In the next chapter, an opinion is made by Dr. Donaldson of Margaret that is completely different than that made by the Thorntons. After Dr. Donaldson reveals the news of Mrs. Hale’s illness, Margaret squeezes the doctor’s hand in appreciation. The doctor then leaves thinking the world of Margaret (p.127). One cannot help but notice the importance of the handshake in this scene. It is obviously a very important custom in the North, which is almost nonexistent in the South whose customs Margaret is use to. When she does not shake Mr. Thornton’s hand, she is considered rude, but when she gives a sincere squeeze of the hand to Dr. Donaldson, she is called “a fine girl” (p.127). The refusal, or neglect, to shake hands shows the unwillingness of Margaret to learn the customs of the North. She is so stubborn in her ideas and her love of the South, that she cannot accept the reality that she now lives in the North and must monitor her behavior accordingly. This attitude is also reflected in her conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Thornton. Although they too have a strong bias for the part of the country where they were raised, it is not they who are “foreigners” in a new area.

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