In North and South there are many different interpretations and definitions of wealth, often ones that strictly follow the divides of class. Mr. Bell, an upper class Oxford man, defines his wealth by his measured fortune and assets and the influence it gives him in society. In contrast, Mr. Thornton, an upper class Milton man, believes love is what gives him a happy life, in addition to his property. Mr. Bell defines his enjoyment as “enjoyment of the power and influence which money gives” (333). He concludes that “You are all striving for money” (333). Gaskell portrays this as an upper class idea that only true happiness can come from riches and the power it brings. However, Thornton, also a man considered upper class does not consider monetary wealth as his only goal in life. Mr. Bell asks Thornton why he wants money, to which Thornton responds, “I really don’t know. But money is not what I strive for” (333).
It is also notable that Thornton doesn’t even define what it is he does pursue until a later chapter. In talking about how he misses visiting the Hales, especially Margaret, Thornton says that trips to their house were, “a walk of two miles, every step of which was pleasant…every step of which was rich” (358). This is Thornton’s first reference to what he believes makes him rich. In Thornton’s eyes his wealth will be complete when Margaret has a greater presence in his life.
Nicholas Higgins thinks of himself as “rich” not because he has lots of money, which he doesn’t, but because he eventually earns the means to support his family and Boucher’s children. His wealth is measured in the barest of necessities; food, clothing and education are what value most to him.