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The Motif of the Sun and its Connection to the Regional Differences in Elizabeth Gaskell’s "North and South"

Hausarbeit 2018 24 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of Lexical and Stylistic Analysis

3. The Analysis of the Motif of the Sun
3.1 Margaret's Adoration for Helstone and Allusions to Upcoming Changes
3.2 The Ambiguity of Margaret's Perception of Milton
3.2.1 Idealising Helstone and Condemning Milton's Industrialism
3.2.2 Recognising Milton's Favourable Sides
3.3 Margaret's Melancholic Return to Helstone and Her Embrace of Change

4. Implications for the Novel's Depiction of Capitalism

5. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

This term paper aims to analyse and interpret the motif of the sun in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South with a highly text-oriented approach. Several literary researchers have already mentioned the significance of this motif in various parts of the novel (c.f. Doski 57). They have also observed that the repeated references to the sun play a large part in emphasising Margaret Hale's perception of the central dynamic between England's industrial North and its pastoral South during the nineteenth century (c.f. Wright 568). This, along with several stylistically remarkable repetitions of this motif in different instances in the novel, suggests that the interpretation of these repetitions may be of value to further the literary understanding of North and South.

However, none of the previous researchers has yet fully explored whether the implementation of this motif throughout North and South might offer more interpretative potential about the novel's distinction between the two opposing regions in England. Another objection along these lines comes from Shelston who states that the displayed regional disparity in the novel is "not just about the simple geographical opposition", but also about the "whole political culture of England" (xi). This implies that the distinction between England's North and South, and thereby the implementation of the motif of the sun, may be heavily intertwined with the novel's more favourable perspective on the emergence of a capitalist society in the nation as a whole. Thus, the research question will address the following problem: How does the motif of the sun reflect Margaret's changing perception of England's regional disparity and what conclusions can be drawn from this concerning the author's depiction of the emerging capitalist society in England?

To properly address the problem posed in the research question, the analysis will mainly rely on a literary semantic approach. This branch of stylistic analysis is concerned with the "'meaning' of literary texts, on all levels of sound, syntax and lexis, as well as in terms of their historical context" (Wales 281). The term paper at hand, with its focus on a recurring literary motif that is repeated on a lexical level, will thus mainly concentrate on the aspects of lexis while drawing some parallels between the interpretations and the historical context of the novel in the fourth chapter of this term paper. This means that the analyses will rely on several theoretical stylistic concepts to define the applied approach more thoroughly. Concerning the analysis of the references to the sun in the main part, this paper will mostly utilise several literary studies of North and South that will serve as support to the interpretations to the arguments presented in the analysis.

This work will begin with a theoretical overview of the field of lexical stylistics, several definitions of technical terms like 'motif' and 'lexis' and those definitions' relevance for the analysis. The third chapter of this work will include a lengthy analysis of the motif of the sun in North and South. This main part of the term paper will mostly identify several connotations of this motif regarding Margaret's changing perception of both her family home Helstone and of Milton's industrious society. The fourth subchapter will then take these identified connotations and draw an overarching conclusion from them, which will regard how the novel presents a solution to the regional differences of England's society as well as the overall depiction of capitalism in the novel.

2. Definition of Lexical and Stylistic Analysis

According to Cummings and Simmons, the main concern of "stylistic analysis is ultimately a study of context" (218) of literary texts. The term 'context' can be understood in two ways that can determine how a researcher's approach to a literary text can vary. The first is "the context created and inferred in the text, ideological or concrete", while the second understanding involves "the broad situational context of the non-fictional world" (Wales 94­95). Considering that the approach for this analysis is mainly text-oriented, it is reasonable to only utilise the term 'context' in the sense of the first understanding in the main part of this analysis. For the fourth chapter of this term paper, the second understanding of context will also be considered.

It is also possible to further classify the text-based context of a literary work by describing it as 'verbal context' which may simply include the "words, sentences, or utterances, paragraphs, or chapters, etc.", that surround a specific word (Wales 93). For the analysis of literary texts, this means that the occurrence of a word in a specific context in the narration may carry a lot of interpretative potential. The term 'style' itself might also be of importance for the analysis since one broad definition of an author's writing style includes the "general stock of the language in any given period" (Wales 436) each author relies upon. The relevance of this stock only becomes apparent once the "choice of items, and their distribution and patterning" (ibid. 436) in an individual text is discussed. This is also relevant for the analysis since the repeated use of a distinctive word, in this case, the repeated references to the sun, in any text allows for many possible interpretations based on the patterning of this word or motif.

This idea of the use of language in a specific narrative situation can be connected to the necessary definition of 'motif'. As Toolan notes, a motif can be "understood as a distinct and frequently occurring characterizing detail, appearing in a range of narrative situations and related to a range of protagonists" (192), a definition firmly in line with the repeated references to the sun in North and South since the motif of the sun is utilised throughout the entire novel in relation to many different characters. He further goes on to remark that these motifs can manifest themselves as "distinctive recurrent details through which the writer has chosen to articulate his themes" (ibid. 192). According to Toolan, some authors may operate at the "lexical level" to draw the reader's attention to the way these motifs may include "similarities and dissimilarities between their varied contexts of use" (ibid. 193).

The concept of a lexical level also requires some investigation: At a most basic level, 'lexis' can be defined as the "most important means we possess for expressing or encoding our ideas and experiences" (Wales 276). These words that reference objects and experiences are mostly constituted of nouns, verbs and adjectives. However, instead of defining them as words, they should rather be coined as 'lexical items' since a noun like 'sun' can have different "forms, [that can be] attached to be the same word, and would be cited so in a lexicon" (ibid. 276). Wales goes on to object that there is a "possibility of a lexical item comprising more than one word" (ibid. 276), which can include another lexical item along the already utilised one. For the analysis of the motif of the sun, this means that little alterations of this lexical item like 'sunny' or the motif's appearance with additional items like 'sunlight' or 'sunbeam' will also be considered and interpreted with equal importance in the analysis.

Another remark should be made about the general concepts that compose a lexical item. One of the most valuable distinctions is that between the denotational and the connotational meaning of any item at hand. The denotational meaning of an item is mainly composed of its "basic and central [...] meaning of words or signs without the associations (connotations) [...] which they can acquire in particular contexts" (Wales 113). Connotations of lexical items in literary texts may, in turn, include "all kinds of associations words may evoke" (Wales 89) which allow for different, more connotational meanings apart from their denotational meaning. This is especially relevant for authors of literary texts since they "seek to include many connotations, perhaps as many as possible" (ibid. 178) in the process of writing a work of fiction.

If one considers this now for the lexical item of the sun, its denotational meaning suggests that it can merely be defined as the "bright celestial object which is the chief source of natural light and heat on earth" (Oxford English Dictionary). Its connotational meaning, however, can have various, more complex implications relative to the context of its occurrence. This is even acknowledged in the Oxford English Dictionary, stating that the lexical item 'sun' can, for example, be used "[i]n figurative contexts and extended metaphors in which the shining of the sun represents or symbolizes glory, joy, good fortune, etc.". One can deduce from this that, with the already explored concepts in mind, that the implementation of this motif in the novel can have vastly different connotations that can be interpreted relative to their occurrence in different contexts.

One last relevant consideration involves the topic of focalisation because the use of recurrent lexical items in a lengthy fictional novel may also be connected to the perception of that novel's characters. As Wales notes, focalisation "refers to the 'angle of vision' through which the story is focused", an angle that includes physical perception, cognitive and emotive orientation (179). Since North and South involves an omniscient narrator that occasionally focalises different characters in various narrative situations, this can have an influence on the interpretation of each lexical item. Thus, whenever the narrator does focalise a character in a particular context, the analysis will acknowledge these instances in their specific narrative situation. This includes phrases like 'from Margaret's perspective' or 'in his/her perception.

To sum up all these concepts and their interconnected nature, one can define the approach for this work as semantic, stylistic analysis of the connotations of a motif, in this case, a lexical item, that repeatedly occurs in various contexts in a literary text. Moreover, this approach will consider the verbal context of this motif while also taking into account how the issue of focalisation influences the interpretation of the text.

3. The Analysis of the Motif of the Sun

Each subchapter will begin with a short integration of the analysed references to the sun into the overall plot of the novel along with a statement on the overall connotative tendencies of this motif in the particular section. The second subchapter of this analysis is split into two halves since the connotations with the motif of the sun emphasise both Margaret's initial disdain and her appreciation of Milton, which will be further discussed in chapter 3.2.

3.1 Margaret's Adoration for Helstone and Allusions to Upcoming Changes

This section of the analysis begins with Margaret's return to Helstone and ends with her arrival at Milton's industrialised outskirts. It is here that the mentions to the sun predominantly evoke Margaret's favourable view of her southern home while also alluding to the upcoming uncertainties of her future life in Milton.

Right from the beginning of the novel, Margaret's high opinion of her family home is introduced along with her childlike, overly optimistic "hope in the future" (NaS 17), which mostly stems from her sheltered upbringing as "a dependent without cares or responsibilities" (Craik 524) in London. As soon as Margaret sees Helstone for the first time in years, her initial glimpse at its surrounding forest is strongly in line with this idealistic perspective: The two idyllic images of the "slanting sunbeams" and the "free, living creatures, revelling in the sun" (NaS 17) indicate Margaret's romanticised view of Helstone's outside life and they signify her idea of a stable, undisturbed home. This notion of stability and happiness is further supported when Margaret tries to persuade her mother to sit on the "beautiful, broad, upland, sun- streaked, cloud-shadowed common" (ibid. 18) to overcome Mrs Hale's supposed fatigue of her indoor life. The excessive use of adjectives here shows how Margaret's love for the outside conditions of Helstone creates an overly harmonious picture of the village's natural, almost picturesque qualities. Her easy-going nature is also heavily implied when the narrator remarks on Margaret's apprehension about future worries, which is supposedly "easily banished for a time by a bright sunny day" (ibid. 22). All these references to the sun and Margaret's idealised view of Helstone's outside beauty show that the depiction of the village "renders its enchantment through the eyes of the enthusiastic and enchanted Margaret" (Craik 525). Her view of the outside conditions of her home is thereby overshadowing Margaret's perception of the emotional disillusionment she experiences when she later feels "surprised by the lack of domestic harmony between her mother and father" (Doski 50).

In the third chapter, this highly idealising use of sun imagery is initially continued when the housemaid informs Margaret about Henry Lennox' arrival as the "brightness of the sun" (NaS 22) appears on her face. However, with the description of the drawing room, "looking best in the morning sun", the authorial narrator already hints at the fact that Margaret's internal life is soon to be disrupted, remarking that the "very brightness outside made the colours within seem poor and faded" (ibid. 23). These allusions towards future disturbances of Margaret's happiness continue to appear throughout the entire chapter: Once she is told by her mother how Mr Hale appears to be overly sentimental and melancholic about his love for Helstone, Margaret feels "as if a thin cold cloud had come between her and the sun" (ibid. 24). Additionally, the old man, whom Margaret describes to Lennox as living and working solitary in the cottages, is depicted to stand "bareheaded in the sun" (ibid. 25), right after Margaret alludes to the prospect of his future death. But the most significant connotation of the motif of the sun with Margaret's loss of her idealised childhood home comes up when Henry Lennox bids Margaret to gather the fruits against the south wall, which are supposed to be "warm and scented by the sun" (ibid. 27). This scene, along with this quote, is often interpreted to be a biblical allusion that signifies how "Helstone represents home, an Edenic haven" (Koivuvaara 138) for Margaret. If one considers how nonchalant and innocent she is depicted at the beginning of her return to the southern countryside, this interpretation strongly reinforces how Margaret clings to the idealisation of her home's outdoor life to sustain her perfect image of Helstone. But, according to Koivuvaara, Margaret's notion of an ideal world is undermined as soon as "[s]exual love enters the Eden via Henry Lennox", which in turn, "shatt[ers] the image of paradise" (138) Margaret has created in her imagination.

With these observations in mind, the depiction of the sun continues to further the upcoming sorrows of Margaret, her high concern for the troubling present and her developing idealised image of Helstone. These themes are heavily emphasised when Mr Hale reveals that he wishes to leave Helstone for an industrial life in Milton after which Margaret reminisces about the past day's events. She recalls a promising morning that started off announcing another "fine and sunny day" (NaS 42) with every indication that her sense of stability in her home would remain intact.


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Institution / Hochschule
Technische Universität Dortmund – Institute of English and American Studies
motif connection regional differences elizabeth gaskell’s north south




Titel: The Motif of the Sun and its Connection to the Regional Differences  in Elizabeth Gaskell’s "North and South"