Simplicity of the South

There is an obvious parallel between the class conditions described by Marx in The Communist Manifesto and those that are present among the characters in North and South. The North as depicted by Gaskell is a perfect representation of a “modern bourgeois society,” or a society founded upon trade, in which money and the accumulation of goods are everything. If the North represents this new societal structure, then the South, to which industrialization has not been extensively introduced, seems to represent the old-fashioned society, or what Marx refers to as the feudal society. Although the feudal system worked in it time, the emergence of the bourgeois society made it a thing of the past and the feudal system seemed to lack depth in comparison.

When Margaret returns to Helstone, her most ideal image of the South, her description is not as positive as it was in the beginning of the novel.   After living for so long in the North, the South is no longer as perfect as Margaret remembers it to be.  One scene that really stood out (p. 389-390) is when Margaret and Mr. Bell go to visit a child Margaret once knew, but find the child’s mother instead. While trying to make conversation, Margaret learns of a horrifying story of a neighbor who burnt the mother’s cat out of a superstitious belief – a belief that the mother also holds to be true – that it would fulfill a wish of hers. As they leave, Mr. Bell refers to the woman’s speech as “practical paganism” (p.390). One cannot help but compare this woman to someone like Higgins in the North (both characters are probably of equal social standing within their own cultures). The difference is striking.   Although Higgins is not very well educated, he makes a point of learning about relevant issues and approaching them in the best way he knows how.  It is clear that he is thinking things through.  The woman of the South, however, represents what Marx calls the “idiocy of rural life” (p.17).   Margaret was once so happy in the South, but after being exposed to the North, where everything is much more progressed, the South is too simple for her.


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