How do the protagonists' relationships with minor characters in "Hard Times" and "North & South" dramatize the issues confronting the individual in society?

Essay by ochibi May 2006

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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 their expectations, their beliefs and the growing admiration for the "self-made man" during the Industrial Revolution. From the lessons that the two protagonists learn from contact with other people, we begin to examine the biggest hurdle that the individual in society is confronted with; the gradual loss of humanity as mankind become obsessed in facts and figures, and the loss of individualism in a crowd.

In "North and South", Margaret Hale struggles against the confines of her upper-middle class background, which suppresses her individuality and forces her to play the part of a dutiful daughter and gentle, soft-spoken female. Margaret is unlike the women of her class in that she enjoys the outdoors and prefers to read in solitude rather than music, parties and social gatherings, a popular pastime for many women. Gaskell establishes the division between Margaret and everyone else by describing her as having a face "so far from regularly beautiful", but "bright as the morning".

Even before moving to Milton, Margaret has been at odds with the people around her, finding it difficult to find someone with similar values and opinions. While Margaret does not see the excitement of getting married, marriage to Captain Lennox...