Conflating the Personal and the Political: Mr. Thornton’s Opinion of Margaret

“She stood as a liar in his eyes. She was a liar. But she had not thought of penitence before God; nothing but chaos and night surrounded the one lurid fact that, in Mr. Thornton’s eyes, she was degraded.” (283)

The above section describes Margaret’s thoughts — jumping into her point of view — after Watson’s second visit to the Hales’ home. Here, Margaret ruminates on Mr. Thornton’s opinion of her given his obvious knowledge that she has lied to him; in the last section, she clarifies that it is not her dishonesty, but rather, Mr. Thornton’s  disappointment in her that she finds most painful. “Chaos and night” suggests she feels a loss of control and absolute inability to process the situation, including all she has “sacrificed for [Frederick]” (283).

On the following page, the omniscient narrator provides what might be considered a more comprehensive reading of the tension Margaret experiences, focusing on the political, rather than wholly personal, ramifications of her actions; “Mr. Thornton, above all people, on whom she had looked down from her imaginary heights till now! She suddenly found herself at his feet, and was strangely distressed at her fall” (284). While Margaret’s own conscience reflects  on the personal interaction between the two characters, the narrator sees Margaret’s “fall” as a tumble down the social ladder, not just a personal loss of trust. While Margaret notes being “degraded” (283) in Mr. Thornton’s eyes only, the social inversion described on p 284 could be easily recognized by a third party, perhaps even as a veritable struggle between classes. Here, then, Gaskell manages to seamlessly conflate the domestic and the political through a misunderstanding that, at least on a superficial level, presents as solely personal.

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