Analyzing Different Points of View

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Pages referenced refer to the Penguin Classics edition, however the text is also available online through the Project Gutenberg)

Set in England, this powerful Victorian novel explores the Industrial Revolution and the relationship between the master and the hands (those that run the factories and those that labor, sometimes giving their lives to the factory work). The novel also explores issues of class hierarchies and expectations, and gendered roles in society. Elizabeth Gaskell does not point fingers or tend toward bias, as she honestly portrays the varying roles the unions, the factory owners, and the workers play in the machine of society.

  1. Chapter X, Wrought Iron and Gold:
  2. What does Thornton believe about capitalism and the opportunities of men? Explain why you may or may not agree with Thornton’s statement that, “a working-man may raise himself into the power and position of a master by his own exertions and behaviors...” What is Margaret’s response to Thornton’s discussions with her father?

  3. Chapter XIII, A Soft Breeze in a Sultry Place:
  4. Describe Betsy’s ailment and what has caused her sickness? What does this mean figuratively and literally about some of the factory workers?

  5. Chapter XVII, What is a Strike?:
  6. This three-part writing exercise demands the student answer the same question from the points of view of three different characters.

      • In this chapter, Margaret asks, “Why do you strike?” Write a detailed answer to Margaret as though you are Betsy or Higgins using details from the novel and this chapter.
      • Write a response from the perspective of a union organizer answering the question: “Why do we strike?”
      • Write a response from the perspective of a manufacturer or owner, such as Thornton, answering the question: “Why do they strike?”

    Read and share the students’ writing and discuss the different perspectives, the changes in tone, diction, and rhetoric. Explore closely how one scene or scenario can be described differently depending on an individual’s (or character’s) point of view.

  7. Chapter XXII, A Blow and Its Consequences:
  8. Discuss and analyze with students how this chapter is a climatic scene for the owners and workers; Margaret and Thornton; and Margaret and Mrs. Thornton.

      • Write a script for this scene that does not use any spoken dialogue, but instead focuses on the characters’ actions and movements only. This type of activity is called a tableau.
  9. Chapter XXXVI, Union Not Always Strength:
  10. Paraphrase and restate Higgins’s statement about the unions.

      • In what ways are they similar to the factory owners? Analyze the situation of the factory workers; what power they have and what choices they have available to them.
  11. Chapter XLII, Alone! Alone!:
  12. Discuss with students how far Thornton’s ideas on the relationship and independence between the owner and the workers have moved.

      • What are his plans? Why have they come about? What does he hope for?
      • What might have been the impetus or inspiration for Gaskell’s novel?
  13. Students should research recent articles and editorials regarding labor and employment in the news, noting in particular the varying perspectives and how the media is portraying each side and discuss in class.
      • Which scenes in North and South are comparable to current situations regarding jobs and employment, union reform, and changing industries and perspectives regarding labor?