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How Do The Protagonists' Relationships With Minor Characters In "Hard Times" And "North & South" Dramatize The Issues Confronting The Individual In Society?

2105 words - 9 pages

Both Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South" and Charles Dickens' "Hard Times" employ the use of relationships between the characters to dramatize the issues that confront an individual in society. Margaret Hale and Louisa Gradgrind, the female protagonists in the two novels, although they have very different personalities, their similar experiences in coming into contact with the poorer working classes highlights the conflicting views of society, both across different classes and within. Margaret and Louisa's interaction with the other characters represent the issues experienced by people in the 19th century, when individuality was shunned and society is separated by class differences and ...view middle of the document...

In the Victorian Era, marriage is the life goal of a woman, to marry into a good family and become a housewife. Her Aunt Shaw's loveless marriage allows Margaret an insight to the worthlessness of such a union, and her amusement at the exclamation over the Indian shawls put her farther and farther from the women of her class. Edith and Aunt Shaw represent the type of femininity that Margaret looks down upon as trivial and believes herself to be above it. While the upper class society of Harley Street sees luxuries such as pretty dresses, balls and marriages to be the epitome of the classic life of a woman, Margaret considers them as "troubles and trammels to her freedom".Gaskell constantly contrasts the upper society and Margaret's way of thinking by juxtaposing Margaret's ideas with those of Henry Lennox, Edith and Aunt Shaw's during her time at Harley Street and Helstone. As Henry Lennox describes of Margaret during the dinner-party at Harley Street, "the idea of stately simplicity accords well with your character.". Margaret prefers a walk to church on a fine summer morning and are troubled by the commotion about 'trifles'; the others believe the whirlwind of activity to be central to a marriage and absolutely necessary. However, although Margaret is so different in many ways from Henry Lennox, Edith and Aunt Shaw, there are also similarities, such as the idea of not liking "shoppy people" and manufacturers. The world of Harley Street is an important part of Margaret's formative influences that will mark her distinction from the people of the North.These opinions provide the basis for the conflict between Thornton and Margaret on her arrival to Milton. Margaret's strong opinions and haughty carriage of herself collides with Thornton's pride in his own strength and abilities. Thornton is made to feel inferior and vulgar in her refined presence, and reacts with resentment, and this describes their relationship through much of the novel, where Thornton's abruptness of manner and his conflicting views offends Margaret, and vice versa. This clash between two individuals from very different societies represents the North and South divide, with different social expectations, values and ways of communication. Social and cultural expectations cause such misunderstandings, and the insistence on these expectations restrict the individual's will.As Margaret settles down in the North, she is confronted by the same set of issues that she was oppressed by in the South. The people of the North are concerned with commerce, trade and manufacture, and the difference in classes are separated by success in business, rather than birth and family background. The "self-made man" is the ideal of the North, and the people's overzealous adoption of industrialization threatens to turn human beings into machines by dulling their fantasies and feelings. The Masters are emotionless in their treatment of the Hands, leading monotonous lives. The leisure and luxury of the...

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