Dear Mary Beth,
Whenever you post a letter (speaking of "post," isn't it funny that we call it "posting" on the Internet, and our beloved Victorian characters called it "posting" when they sent a letter?), I get very excited to reply but try to hold off for a bit so our posts are more evenly spaced out. This time around, though, I received a sudden job offer just as I was about to post, and I started my job so suddenly that lots of other things got neglected, including this blog. It's good to be back!
I'm going to pick up where you left off with the irrational way unions tend to negotiate with employers. I believe you said they "cut off their noses to spite their face." Northeast Ohio certainly isn't the only place to see that behavior firsthand, nor are unions the only perpetrators. We've been seeing a lot of such behavior on the national level with the budget crisis in Congress. In fact, it's been going on for so long and has been covered so extensively in the media, that I change the radio station as soon as I hear the words "budget crisis." I can only hope that the public takes note in time for election day. Isn't it interesting how we always seem to find some major issue in the Victorian novel at hand that has direct relevance today?
These six chapters of North and South are very pivotal and could probably be considered the turning point in many ways. First, we've got Mr. Thornton's dinner. He began planning this dinner, of course, before it became apparent that his workers would strike and his income would suffer. Now Marlborough Mills is quiet the evening of the dinner. Margaret gets to see Thornton in his element, surrounded by his peers, where is is most comfortable and appears to greater advantage, which she notices. Another thing Margaret notices while dining with tradespeople is their frank manner with each other, which she contrasts with the "artifice" of London society.
As you mentioned in your letter, Mr. Hale has no idea how ill his wife really is, but he finds out following Thornton's dinner (which she does not attend). This knowledge leads him to send Margaret to the Thorntons' for a water bed, which, it is hoped, will be good for Mrs. Hale. So the chain of events begins.
While Margaret is at the Thorntons', the famous riot scene takes place. This scene reveals, I think, two important things about Margaret. First, she's confused and meddling in affairs she doesn't understand. When the rioters approach Marlborough Mills, Margaret demands that Thornton face his workers "like a man," but as soon as he heads to the balcony, she calls after him to come back, concerned for his safety. After such a challenge from Margaret, though, Thornton can hardly do otherwise. The second thing we learn about Margaret is that her sense of right and wrong is overly simplistic. She thinks only of the here and now without thought of how things will play out over the long term. That's why she gave money and food to the Bouchers (which Thornton disagreed with, saying it would prolong the strike and thus everyone's suffering), and that's why she throws herself at Thronton during the riot in order to shield him. She seems to have no idea how much mischief she inadvertently causes.
Following the riot scene, of course, we have Thronton's proposal. Margaret, embarrassed at the rumors her behavior has started, responds quite harshly to poor Mr. Thornton. Of course, as Thornton is leaving, and Margaret can see that he's hurt, she regrets the pain she has caused. By now, Margaret's sense of right and wrong seems to be more like a desire for the world to be perfect--for everything to be how she wants it, and for everyone to be happy. She certainly has lived a very sheltered life and is learning a tough lesson about life outside the bubble.
Finally, in Chapter XXV, Margaret writes to Frederick, urging him to return home before their mother's death. Again, she wishes for Frederick's safe return to England and thinking that his "crime" must surely be forgotten by now. But her father emphasizes the danger Fred will be in. Her father also admits that while he was glad Margaret wrote to Fred, he (Mr. Hale) couldn't have done it himself. Once again, it seems, Mr. Hale is hesitant (unwilling, even) to take responsibility.
And so I have come full circle. I began this letter talking about letters, and now it ends with talk of a different letter. That's my cue to sign off.