Coming from a humble background, she has married her way to the top of 1920s society. It didn’t happen overnight. Margaret has come a long way from the frightened 16 year old that fled her homeland. She has also grown spiritually, emotionally, and in her independence. The girl we are introduced to in the pilot is not the woman we see in the second season finale.
Born in Ireland, she immigrated to the US because she had become pregnant out of wedlock and her family wished to have her “reformed” by sending her to a home. She stole the savings that her family had to send her eldest brother to America and took the ship herself.
She ran. She was young, unmarried, and pregnant. In the early 1900s, this was a dishonorable experience for a woman. The father of the baby denied the child. Her family betrayed her by wanting to send her away because they were ashamed. What else was a girl to do?
Losing the child to miscarriage while on the way to the states must have been devastating. It was too late to turn back. She already burned her bridges and they would be hard to rebuild. At this point, she probably questioned her faith more than ever before. Why would God have her lose the child after all the emotional trauma she had been through? The kind of rejection, disgrace, and disappointment she felt in herself must have been overwhelming. The only thing she could do from here was move forward.
She met, fell in love and married Hans Schroeder. One can only speculate at their courtship. Hans was the motivation for Margaret to join the Temperance Movement. He was a drunk that would occasionally knock her around. Of course, this was considered normal, average male behavior during the era. It was a huge reason for the movement. Women were tired of taking the beatings and abuse. Though alcohol was a prime excuse for poor treatment of women, it was a practice that was soon on its way out.
She was probably hoping he would change with the prohibition. They had children together and this was a bond that is hard to break. Being pregnant with their third child, she most likely felt trapped but also felt he at least claimed his children. He was good hearted in the sense that he provided what he could to support her and the children. Women in abusive situations try to rationalize the co-dependency. He couldn’t have always been a total jerk every minute of every day. She clung to the hope that they man she courted would come back when the alcohol was out of the picture.
Margaret saw hope in Nucky Thompson when she heard him speak at a Temperance meeting. You could almost hear the violins in her head as he spoke to the crowd. Being the charmer, he made himself approachable. It took courage to approach a man of such clout to ask for assistance. He seemed an admirable man. Another note on her character is she was not asking for monetary aid. Margaret was only asking for a lead on a job for her underemployed husband. She didn’t want a handout and only took what Nucky offered because that was the only way he could lend a hand at the time.
Of course, her hopes of her family getting on their feet were dashed when Hans caught her hiding the money. Because she was afraid of a beating from his jealousy, she lied about it and got beat anyway. It cost her in more ways than one.
Her hospital stay may have been due to a physical trauma but in the emotional sense as well. Hans went too far this time. She was afraid for herself and her kids. She lost one child because of his violence but stood to lose her older children or her own life. When she gets visited by Nucky, she feels a comfort because it seems as though someone cares about her again. She was a person, a human; not just a baby maker and maid. Nucky’s financial well being makes him that much more admirable. Finding out she was a widow was a release from captivity.
After getting back home and recovering physically, Margaret is faced with the challenge of providing for her family after becoming a widow. Once again, she swallows her pride and gets Nucky to help her out once more. She is starting to learn who she really is.
While being courted by Nucky, Margaret starts to believe in happily-ever-after. He promises to take care of her, her children and to make her happy. He moves her into a luxury home like ones she has never lived in. She is provided new clothing and anything she needs. Her children are no longer hungry and she doesn’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from. Margaret is living the dream.
Margaret is brought back to earth when she is stood up on a date the two had. Coupled with the remarks from other gals in the building that are dating Nucky’s elite friends, Margaret builds up her feelings of doubt about the true nature of the relationship. Is she just his whore? Is she now the pretty trophy that he puts on his arm like a nice watch?
As their relationship further develops, we see how Margaret has gone from a girl who was once shunned by everyone with her own insecurities to a woman who is independent and feels more in control of her life. The naïve young woman who believed in fairy tales is all grown up.
Having a powerful fiancée or lover gave women of the era more confidence. They used their femininity to their advantage. Not trying to get into a debate about it but it is an age old practice that still exists in 2012 to some extent. Margaret became comfortable with having the nanny take care of the children. She started to feel like she needed the power over the help to gain more self confidence. Margaret felt she could have a brief affair because she could get away with it. She felt the confidence that no one would find out. She also chalked an affair up to revenge in a sense because she suspected Nucky had his fair share of treating her poorly. She is thrown off her pedestal when her daughter contracts polio.
Margaret leans to her Catholic faith again. She looks at Emily’s contracting polio as punishment for her own sins. Everything she has done in the past has come to haunt her. She has lied, cheated, stolen, and stood idly by while knowing of immoral and illegal activities. Because of these terrible acts against God, Emily is paying the price.
In order to repent, Margaret has betrayed her husband’s trust. She has signed away the land to the church and this will be her ticket into the kingdom of heaven. This may even help in healing her daughter. What will she do if her God fails? Can she continue to be married to Nucky and still claim her passage into heaven? What if she can change Nucky into a God fearing man?
Margaret throws all of her hope into change. If she could only change this or that, things would be better. She wanted to change Hans from a drunkard to an upstanding man. She wanted the nation to change so women could vote. She wanted her marital status to change in hopes the relationship would solidify and be graced by God.
What kind of changes will face Margaret next?
This is just the latest in our ongoing character profile series for Boardwalk Empire! Have a look at the rest when you get the chance.