Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel Essay
Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel
Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is a novel, which depicts the last days of life of the protagonist – Hagar Currie-Shipley. Pride, loneliness and final journey to death are the main themes of the novel. The character of Hagar is transformed through the novel and the readers can see different stages this old woman comes in her perception of other people, life and death. Multiple flashbacks give us idea about the life of the main character and people who surround her. Margaret Laurence goes further than mere description of events. Deep investigation of Hagar’s beliefs, thoughts and ideas present not only a valuable investigation of old lady’s inner world, but also make the readers to reflect on such important themes as love, friendship, pride, acceptance of death and coming in terms with one’s reality.
Margaret Laurence wrote in one of her interviews that she was not sure if the last days of ninety-year old woman could be an interesting reading for the wide audience. But she dared and fulfilled her idea and the novel became popular among the readers. It was included into several study courses soon after it was published. The subject touched in the novel echoed in the hearts of the readers and they were ready to share an experience of dying woman and reflect on the themes of pride and loneliness.
Pride is the best characteristic of the main character. All Hagar’s life is dedicated to one ultimate purpose – she wants to make a good appearance by any means. Any manifestations of emotions she regards as weakness, which should be avoided by any means. The name of the novel becomes a symbol for this pride, which makes the main purpose of Hagar’s life. From early age she feels superior to other children. An accident on the Manawak dump is very characteristics for better understanding of Hagar’s character.
When Hagar’s friend Lottie killes small chicks in the Manawak dump Hagar becomes greatly impressed by this accident. This accident made such a great impression on Hagar that she was not able to forget about it during all her life. Many years later she retold this accident to Lottie after the death of their children. This accident had such an impression on Hagar not only because of her extra sensitiveness. For her killing birds became manifestation of strength. This strength was manifested by her shy friend.
As Hagar herself describes her: “Lottie was light as an eggshell herself, and I felt surly toward her littleness and pale fine hair, for I was tall and sturdy and dark and would have liked to be the opposite” (Laurence,. 27). Comparing herself to Lottie Hagar suddenly came to realization that she was weaker than slim and shy girl she disdained. This accident became one of the turning points in the becoming of Hagar’s personality and shaped out all her further life. An accident in the Manawak dump made Hagar obsessed with pride and desire to keep a good appearance in front of people by any mean. Pride became sense of life and she was ready to sacrifice everything to this ideal. She did not make any exceptions, even for her dearest people.
Being afraid to become weak, she even refuses to pretend being her mother when her dying brother asks her about this. She refuses to do so because she believes her mother was a weak person and Hagar is afraid even to pretend being weak. Pride does not let Hagar to accept the choice of her son to marry Lottie’s daughter. She sees their relations “as a joke of God – if people had told me forty years ago my son would fall for No-Name Lottie Drieser’s daughter, I’d have laughed in their faces” (Laurence, 204). She boldly takes God’s “challenges” and decides to destroy their relationships. For this purposes she even turns to Lottie’s help. Hagar is stubborn and self-assured enough to make the decisions for other people and their future.
She does not take feelings of other people seriously and even happiness of her own son does not count in comparison to her own ambitions. She does not hesitate even for a minute when making a decision to destroy John’s and Arlene’s relationship. Hagar forgets her own youth when she did not listen to anybody and married the man she had fallen in love with. “I saw them with a covey of young, like Jess’s had been, clustered like fish spawn, children with running noses and drooping, handed-down pants four sizes too large. I couldn’t face the thought.” (Laurence, 211) She is absolutely sure in her right and power to decide the destinies of other people and such attitude finally results in a tragedy. Pride and aesthetic feeling become main reasons, which define all Hagar’s behavior.
Obsession with the importance of appearance becomes a reason, which destructs Hagar’s life. This concern about appearance prevented her from enjoying physical love with the husband. Inner rules and restrictions did not let her to forget about morals and appearance even for a minute. Doing her best to keep a good appearance she does not even cry on the funerals of her beloved son.
Death is another important theme of the novel. All Hagar’s life becomes a constant battle with death. Since early years she denies death and destructions and since these very early times they follow her step by step. Feeling an approach of death, Hagar tries to escape this reality and looks for the mean to deceive death. In the beginning she turns to memories and recollects the pictures from her past. Childhood memories, marriage and children, all these memories help Hagar to create her own reality where there is no place for death. She can not even tolerate thoughts about death.
In her reflections she states: “Hard to imagine a world and I not in it. Will everything stop when I do? Stupid old baggage, who do you think you are? Hagar. There’s no one else like me in this world” (Laurence, 255). Such a position reflects selfish attitude and pride. Hagar can not believe that the world can exist without her. When Hagar realizes that she can not escape from reality any more aggression and desire to change something replaces all other feelings. Hagar rejects help of other people and tries to fight death. She can hardly control her feelings and anger becomes a mean to express her protest against the existing order of the world. The realization become difficult because death is that phenomenon, which Hagar tried to escape by any means since early childhood.
From the very moment when Lottie killed chicks Hagar did not want to confess even to herself that death was a natural part of the world. She rejects any kind of help and perceives Marvin’s attempt to put her in the nursing home as a humiliation. Only after long period of inner fight Hagar finally comes in terms with the reality. Acceptance of the world around her becomes new experience for Hagar. She finally comes to hard realizations that her will and proud can not control everything in the world and there are things she has to perceive as they are, not attempting to improve them. Ability to see different sides of the problem also becomes new experience for Hagar. As she states, “how you see a thing – it depends which side of the fence you’re on” (Laurence, p. 224)
May be for the first time in her life Hagar realizes that there are other people around her and these people also have feelings, thoughts and emotions. Such simple conclusion becomes a very serious breakthrough for this strong and proud woman who used to control everything and everybody during all her life. Hagar finally starts counting with the will of other people. She does several mercy deeds, which are done not because of some aesthetic value or in the attempt to make a good appearance. Hagar helps ill girl who can not get up. Later she talks to her son and tells him she loves him more than John, who died in the car accident. These actions require enormous amount of Hagar’s inner force. Simple acts of mercy are so new to her that she can not perceive them as something normal, like most of the people do. This transformation becomes the greatest accomplishment for Hagar.
She lies to Marvin in the name of love. This lie is very vividly apposed to her proud refusal to lie for the sake of her dying brother many years ago. All these changes become a vivid indicator of big transformation, which happens to Hagar during the last days of her life. She finally realizes that there are things, which are more important than pride and good appearance, which have determined all her previous life. Such things as compassion, friendship and love for the first time uncover their true meaning for Hagar. The author uses the death to show the change in the perspective of the main character and to let the reader follow the person who leaves this world.
From the other side new realization does not change her proud and independent nature. Hagar is still afraid and feels lonely, but she does not fight her destiny and the whole world any more. She makes her final decision to leave the world being proud and independent, like she has spent her whole life. In the last scene Hagar, dying, rejects the help of the nurse to help her drink some water. She does it herself and this usual action which we do several times a day becomes an exploit for dying woman and proves her independence and power of her spirit.
Margaret Laurence has chosen a difficult topic for her novel. She depicted the last days of the old woman left alone in her world, surrounded by the memories of the past and lonely in her voluntary isolation. The author describes different stages Hagar passed before her death and analyses her emotional conditions during these stages. But we meet death several times during the novel. We see in the memories of Hagar who lost almost all her dear people but didn’t think about the death like about something which could happen to her. The death is described without embellishments and exaggerations. But ordinary and routine descriptions help to get better understanding of the death and, finally, of life.
1. Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel, New Canadian Library, Toronto, 1968.