The Stone Angel
Stylistic Devices in the Stone Angel Novel
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is a heart-warming story of a ninety year old woman who is nearing death and who has very little to look back on with pride. Her life had been ruled by her concern of outward appearances and manners. Although she often felt love and happiness, she refused to show it fearing it may be viewed by others as a weakness. Hagar inherited this strong pride from her father, Jason Currie, along with other poor qualities. Throughout her life, Hagar is desperately trying to escape. First, she tries to escape from her family, mostly her father, but in so doing she also cuts herself off from her brother, Matt. She also ends up leaving her husband, Brampton. Secondly, Hagar tries to escape from her own poor qualities to which she is captive; attempting to fill the emptiness within her. Finally and futilely, she tries to escape death. All of these attempts fail dismally. Throughout the narration of the novel many images are put forth repetitiously to aid the development of Hagar’s character and the main themes. The Stone Angel is a very effective story due largely to the biblical, water, and flower imagery.
The biblical imagery is very strong and can be found numerous times throughout the novel. The name of the main character, Hagar, is also the name of a hand maid in a biblical story. Many parallels are made between Margaret Laurence’s Hagar and the biblical Hagar. The Hagar in the bible was to conceive a son with the husband of her owner, Sarah, who, herself, was unable to conceive. Hagar did bear a son but Sarah became very jealous of Hagar and had her thrown out into the wilderness. Hagar’s son was born and they both returned to the place where Sarah and her husband, Abraham Laurence’s husband to Hagar was named Brampton to echo Abraham), lived. Hagar and her son were cast into the wilderness once again when Sarah bore a son of her own and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, mocked Sarah’s child. Nearing death, Hagar and her son were saved by God who provided them with a well of water. The Hagar in The Stone Angel is very similar to the Hagar in the bible. Laurence’s Hagar became a housekeeper to Bram after she married him, which is ironic for a woman with her qualities. Hagar realizes this and sees herself as a bondwoman (this is also how the biblical Hagar is described); therefore, she feels trapped like a prisoner. Hagar says, “I was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains within me,” (pg. 261) thus showing Hagar as a captive of her position, emotions, and her pride. The two Hagars are also very similar in that they both go into the wilderness. Hagar Shipley goes out into the wilderness when she leaves her father to marry Bram and live on his farm. The difference between the two Hagars if that Hagar Shipley is not confronted by a divine manifestation like the Egyptian Hagar. Hagar’s vision and realization comes when she and her favored son, John, leave home. Hagar slowly begins to see John’s true character. Hagar Shipley wished her son was like Jacob, a faithful son in the Old Testament; however, she soon realized that he was not like Jacob. When Hagar returned to Manawaka, the statue of the stone angel had been pushed over and she requested that her son, John, fix it. Hagar says, “I wish he could have looked like Jacob then, wrestling with the angel and besting it, wringing a blessing from it with his might. But no.” (pg. 159). Hagar’s second journey into the wilderness was when she fled to Shadow Point. Here, Hagar realized that her other son, Marvin, was her Jacob and that she had favored the wrong son. The Hagar in the Old Testament bore a wild son, Ishmael, but she also created a faithful son, Jacob (descendent of Isaac). The parallels between The Stone Angel and the biblical Hagar are so strong that the effectiveness of Margaret Laurence’s work rises dramatically.
The water imagery presented many times in the novel helped to develop the theme of death. As everyone knows, water is viewed as the center of life since, without it, life would cease to exist. An example of this is when the drought occurred in Manawaka. Hagar returned during the drought to find all of the Shipley’s flowers and vegetables dead. “They’d had no water this year,” says Hagar, not yet realizing that she, too, has lived most of her life in a drought. The water she was deprived of was that of a wild and free spirit that could express itself without restraint. Hagar experiences an actual lack of water when she goes on her sojourn at Shadow Point. She had gone shopping on the way to her destination and had forgotten to buy water. “I’ve not had a drop of water since – I can’t remember how long it’s been. A long time… Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink. That’s my predicament,” (pg. 166) thinks Hagar. This had always been Hagar’s predicament; life always surrounded her but she could never have a taste of what life really meant. Hagar’s inner feelings and emotions had been dying of thirst all her life and now she feared she might physically die of thirst. After being found at Shadow Point, she was brought to a hospital where she was to die. As she lay in her death bed she requests a glass of water to quench her thirst and says as her daughter-in-law tries to help her,
“I only defeat myself by not accepting her. I know this – I know it very well. But I can’t help it – it’s my nature. I’ll drink from this glass, or spill it, just as I choose… I wrest from her the glass, full of water to be had for the taking. I hold it in my own hands.”
The drink of water symbolizes a cleansing of herself, of her guilt. Even in her final minutes of life her pride won’t allow her to accept her daughter-in-law’s help. This glass of water was an attempt at rejuvenating herself for life after death.
The flower imagery aids the story by showing the two opposing ways to live your life. In the novel there is imagery of wild flowers and of cultivated flowers. Much like people, some are wild and others are tame or predictable. Hagar lived most of her life like a cultivated flower. Her inner responses are natural and wild; however, externally she acts rationally and tamely in fear of her overall appearance being effected if she acted spontaneously. Cultivated flowers symbolize death in that they are not permitted to grow freely and naturally, the very cause of their existence is being destroyed by their unnaturalness. The perfume “Lily of the Valley”, which was given to Hagar by her granddaughter, Tina, was a symbol of death. Hagar says to herself, “I would not expect her to know that the lilies of the valley, so white and almost too strongly sweet, were the flowers we used to weave into the wreaths for the dead.” (pg. 28). This was foreshadowing Hagar’s death). Hagar held a high affection for lilacs, the flowers which grew at the Shipley place. These flowers were not taken care of and they “hung like bunches of mild mauve grapes”. (pg.25). Similarly, Hagar did not care about living a normal, natural life, which caused her to be in miserable conditions, much like the lilacs. When Hagar returned to the Shipley place years later, all the flowers were dead. Her lilacs were “burnt yellow, and the branches snapped if you touched them,” (pg. 150) and her marigolds, which she always took care of, were “a dead loss”. (pg. 150). The death of her marigolds showed how creating life artificially will not work, since her marigold were cultivated continuously. Hagar’s life was lived artificially, with very little naturalness or spontaneity, thus she stifled her enjoyment of a free life for the sake of appearances. When Hagar went off on her final journey of self-discovery, she realizes she has led a poor, artificial life and although this realization has come very late in her life, she tries to do away with this pretentiousness. At one point Hagar takes off her hat which was “a prim domestic hat sprouting cultivated flowers” (pg. 193) and replaced the hat with dead June bugs, in an effort to be natural.
There is other imagery (such as mirror imagery) which also helps to develop Margaret Laurence’s story; however, it wasn’t personally seen as powerful as the ones discussed. All the imagery throughout the novel helps the themes, characters, or plot to be more effective. The biblical imagery aids the development of Hagar’s character and the plot. The water imagery helps to establish the theme of death and to attempt the impossible – escape from death. The flower imagery showed the way Hagar lived her life and the way she should have lived her life. Margaret Laurence is brilliant in her use of imagery to further propel the strength of her story. Without this outstanding application of imagery, the novel The Stone Angel would not be nearly as powerful as portrayed.
Literary Review and Interpretation of Main Themes of the Stone Angel
In The Stone Angel, Margaret Lawrence portrays a woman attempting to understanding herself and her life. Hagar is the narrator of the book. She is ninety, and is trying to avoid an old aged home where her son Marvin, and Marvins wife Doris want to put her. During this her attempt to move to Shadow Point and live alone, Hagar remembers the many parts of her life and her life story is revealed to the reader in that fashion. Hagar grew up in Manawaka, in the prairies. Hagars mother died while giving birth to her, and her father Jason Currie had a great stone angel brought from Italy at a great expense for Mrs. Curries grave. Hagar had two brothers, Matt and Daniel. Daniel was a lazy boy, and was very delicate physically. Daniel died at eighteen of pneumonia. Matt intended to go to university, but Hagar was sent by her father. Matt married, but never had children, and died of disease without putting up a fight in his death bed. Hagar eventually goes to university and returns to marry Brampton Shiptley, against her fathers will. At that point she loses contact with her father. Hagar eventually regrets marrying Bram, who often embarrasses her. Hagar and Bram have two boys, Marvin and John. Hagar never really loves Marvin, and when he moves out, she moves out with John. She loves him, and does everything for him.
They eventually return to Manawaka when Brampton is dying. At that point John is in love with Arlene, something Hagar does not understand nor approve of. John tragically dies while performing a stunt while drunk. Hagar moves to the coast, buys a house, and ends up living her last days with Marvin and his wife Doris. Shortly before her death Hagar realizes many things about herself. First of all that her heart is made of stone, secondly that she has a lot of pride like her father, and thirdly that she is blind, or in other words she can only see things from one perspective, her own. These characteristics and those of the stone angel, which was made of stone, was erected out of pride, and has no eyes, are strikingly similar.
Throughout Hagars recollection of the past there are many instances where Hagar could not express her emotions. This is seen very early when Hagars father punishes her and she refuses to cry in his presence. When her brother Daniel is dying of pneumonia, Matt insists that Hagar cradle him with her mothers shawl. Hagar wants to help her brother, but cant because it requires love. Another example of Hagars heart of stone is that she is unable to tell her father that she feels that Matt should be going to university instead of her. When Brams favorite horse runs away and dies in a storm, Hagar shares Brams distress over the death, but doesnt admit it or attempt to soothe Bram. Only near the end of her life does Hagar show her emotions by telling Marvin she is frightened, but remains ashamed to have revealed her emotions. At this point Hagar realizes that her heart is made of stone, and that she has been hard and has never opened up to anyone, like the stone angel. The stone angel was brought from Italy, as a symbol of the Currie familys pride, and not as much to honor Mrs. Currie. Jason Currie has incredible pride, and upon his death leaves his money to the city so that he would be remembered. Hagar has inherited this pride. Because of this pride Hagar doesnt accept John and Arlenes love, because of Arlenes background. Hagar never loves her son Marvin neither, because he is not the type of son she wants. Hagar is also cold with Lottie and Mrs. Jardine upon meeting them, because of her pride. Because of this pride Hagar is also blind, for she can only see things from her perspective. She cannot see that her son loves Arlene, she only sees Arlenes background. Hagar cant see that Lottie is in a similar situation as herself either because she is blind. Murray Lee helps Hagar discover this and helps her open up a little. Hagars blindness is comparable to the stone angel because the stone angel never had any eyes carved into it. Hagars cold emotional state, her pride, and her blindness are very similar to those qualities in the stone angel.
Hagars understanding of herself grows a lot during the last days of her life as she reminisces of the past and spends time with many people.
Her life story is not tragic, but her main bad qualities of being cold emotionally, her great pride which in turn caused her blindness, are revealed to her through out her recollection of her life and throughout the plot. Hagar realizes these things, but it is too late to change.
These characteristics revealed through out the story describe the stone angel.
The Metaphor of Statue and its Symbolism in the Stone Angel
The statue of the stone angel is symbolic of the Curie family pride, Hagar’s inability to relate and share her emotions, and the blindness and ignorance that comes from constantly refusing to see things from another point of view other than your own.
The Stone angel is symbolic of the Curie family pride because it does not seem to serve it’s purpose, which is to hon our Hagar’s mother who had died giving birth to her. Hagar describes Mrs. Curie to be a “meek woman” and a “feeble ghost”, whereas she describes herself to be “stubborn” and “practical”. The statue was bought in Italy and brought to the Manawaka cemetery “at a terrible expense . . . in pride to mark her bones and proclaim his [Mr. Currie’s] dynasty, as he fancied, forever and a day” (p. 3). Mr. Currie bought the angel “in pride” rather than in grief for someone he considered his possession, his “dynasty”. The stone angel is also a symbol of Hagar’s pride as she inherited it from her father. It was this pride that kept her from speaking up and fighting for her brother when Mr. Currie sent her away to college to become “more civilized”. She knew Matt deserved to go more than her, but she never stuck up for either him or herself. In an attempt at freedom, or maybe just to spite her father, Hagar married Bram Shipley soon after she came back from school. From day one, Hagar’s marriage to Bram was a complete embarrassment to her and her family: “When i’d listen to Bram spinning his cobwebs, then it would turn my stomach most of all, not what he said but that he made himself a laughingstock” (p. 114). Upon hearing about their plans to wed, Hagar’s father disowns her. Bram was not a rich man by any means, he drank heavily, always spoke in slang, and caused a scene on a regular basis. Hagar thought she’d be able to change him and coax him out of his wild ways, but when he proved her wrong, she just accepted the fact that she’d have to live with it or lie about it to save face. When applies for a job to get away from Mananawka and her husband, she lies to her boss as to her real relationship with Bram.
Hagar’s pride prevents her from expressing her emotions or relating to other people, and as a result she turns out to be just as hard and unyielding as the stone angel itself. She never reveals her real feelings at the risk of being thought of as “soft” and as a result she misses out on a lot of potentially great relationships. At a very young age, her pride prevents her from comforting her dying brother:
But all i could think of was that meek woman I’d never seen, the woman Dan was said to resemble so much and when from whom he’d inherited a frailly I could not help but detest, however mush a part of me wanted to sympathize. To play at being her – it was beyond me.
When Abram’s horse died, she had a hard time trying to find something soothing to say or do because she always had a stone wall built up between them.
Seeing Abram’s hunched shoulders, and the look on his face, all at once I walked over to him without pausing to ponder whether I should or not, or what to say. . . Then, awkwardly, “I’m sorry about it Bram. I know you were fond of him
Hagar comes to pride herself on her self-restraint and aloofness. Margaret Laurence establishes this though Hagar’s refusal to admit to her husband that she enjoys making love with him:
It was not so very long after we wed, when first i felt my blood and vitals rise to meet his. he never knew. I never let him know. I never spoke aloud, and i made certain the trembling was all inner . . . i prided myself on keeping my pride intact, like some maidenhood.
The stone angel, in addition to being made of hard marble, is “doubly blind”. Not only because it is made of stone, but because the artist neglected to add the eyeballs to his masterpiece. This is also symbolic of Hagar because she is blind when it comes to the feelings of others. It prevents her from having a friendship with Lottie. It isn’t until it’s too late that she realizes she has more in common with Lottie than either of them had ever imagined. It also prevents her from seeing that Marvin was the son she’d been looking for, that her pride had been holding her back, and that sometimes the problems of others were of more importance than her own.
Hagar Shipley’s Character and His Development in The Stone Angel
In The Stone Angel, Hagar Shipley, age ninety, tells the story of her life, and in doing so tries to come to terms with how her personal attributes deprived her of joy throughout her life. Raised with the stern virtues of her pioneer ancestors, bestowed upon her through her father, Hagar becomes a tragic hero through a life of uncompromising pride — a pride which sustained her during a stormy marriage and which overpowered her ability to admit that she has made mistakes and ultimately contributing to her overall stubbornness and inability to acheive a warm, satisfying relationship with anyone in her life.
For Hagar Shipley, a woman with great independence and dignity, living in a world of appearances was an intrinsic routine she endured everyday. Revealing emotion to others, even to her own father, was something she sometimes wanted to do; but, she just was not capable of doing so. The values instilled upon her when she was a child were those of appearing strong and independent at all times, believing wholeheartedly that showing any kind emotion was a sign of weakness. “Gainsay who dare” was the family’s motto, and for someone like Hagar to show emotion, she would have to had to have been dared. Eventually, Hagar’s solution to a difficult situation was to simply ignore it and hide from her problems instead of dealing with them in a mature fashion. Unfortunately for Hagar, this approach eventually blocked everyone out of her life and she was unable to really open up to anyone around her, eventually introverting her life so that she would not need to open up to anyone else.
Hagar’s marriage to Bram was an utter failure, even from the very beginning and should have never taken place at all. With Hagar already acting as if she is trying to put on a show for everyone, having to constantly correct Bram’s use of the English language simply worsened her state since she was only hurting her own pride when she did this. On their wedding night Bram gave Hagar a vase and said, “This here’s for you, Hagar,” (Pg. 51) while most people would have been overwhelmed with emotions from the kind offering, that they would not cared how he said it, but Hagar is too focussed on Bram’s grammatical errors that she just sets the vase aside and “..thought no more about it.” (Pg. 51) However, if Hagar would have listened to her father and married a man with a higher sense of decency and conveyed the same amount of pride as Hagar, she could have helped her own situation by giving herself someone which she could open up to and relate to. Ever since birth Hagar has had nobody there for her. Her mother dying when she was born, her only siblings were two older brothers and Hagar was constantly putting on a show for her friends, so there was nobody for her.
The stone angel is Hagar’s mothers tombstone. Hagar describes it as the, “…first, the largest, and certainly the costliest. The others as I recall, were a lesser breed entirely, petty angels cherubim with pouting stone mouths…” (Pg. 4) Her pride is clearly shown through this description. She holds her family in the highest, and she makes this evident by calling all other’s “…a lesser breed.” There are several other examples of Hagar’s pride. The stone angel itself is symbolic of it. Hagar clearly makes the comparison herself when she describes how she feels in the present: “My bed is cold as winter, and now it seems to me that I am lying as children used to do, on fields of snow, and they would spread their arms and weep them down to their sides, and when they rose there would be the outline of an angel, with spread wings.” (Pg. 81) She feels like the angel, a monument symbolic to her pride: a towering figure over others; a clear elite to the “lesser breads”. This is truly ironic since Hagar is not higher than anyone else; but simply a lower class woman, working with nothing but her introvert pride.
A Life Of Regret
As one reflects on the past, he or she will be full of pride and guilt. Margaret Laurence uses her protagonist Hagar Shipley from her fictional novel The Stone Angel to explain bitterness, longing, and reverence is the result of contemplating the past. Despite being born a Currie, Hagar is unable to possess the honor that the Currie name symbolizes. As a result, Hagar lives a life of bitterness and longs for the relationships she could not attain due to unwillingness to express emotion. In her old age, Hagar consumes herself with pride and guilt when she ponders the past.
Throughout her life, Hagar tries to live in accordance to the Currie name. The prestige that comes with the Currie name is what Hagar deeply respects and longs for. Mrs. Shipley first shows her affection of the Currie name when she reminisces to her childhood. Hagar is fond of her reputable father as she refers to him as a “self-made man” who “had pulled himself by the bootstraps” (Laurence 7). She is proud of her father’s ability to rise from an initial state of poverty to a prominent figure in the community. Moreover, Hagar admires the family lineage and holds it in high regard: “The Curries are Highlanders… The Highlanders must be the most fortunate men on Earth” (Laurence 15). Later on in the novel, Hagar shows her respect to the Currie name by bestowing the family treasure to her son John Shipley: ”I gave him the Currie-plaid pin” (Laurence 124.) Hagar’s actions show that she respects and longs for the status that comes with being a Currie. Thus, it is no surprise that the failure to retain her prominence as a Currie results in a life of bitterness and regret.
Hagar regrets certain decisions that result in her loss of status. One major decision Hagar regrets is her marriage to Brampton Shipley. In the past, she use to believe that she could change Bram to be more respectful; “In those days I still hoped he’d do well” (Laurence 84). However, she quickly realizes that Bram will not be able to change to become more reputable. In fact, Bram proves to be detrimental to Hagar’s appearance in Manawaka as Bram “relieved himself…against the steps of the Currie store” (Laurence 115). Furthermore, Hagar’s act of marrying Bram causes her to causes her father, Jason Currie, to abandon her. Jason does not approve of this marriage and decides to give the inheritance money to the city when he passes away. As a result, Hagar is left struggling with Bram. In addition, she resents “Lottie No-Name” (Laurence 11) because Lottie goes from poverty to marrying into wealth and status, whereas Hagar loses her status when she marries Bram. Hagar, who is prideful of her Currie name does not acknowledge that she is no longer a Currie becomes bitter as a result. Later, Hagar becomes easily angered since Doris and Marvin are taking care of her in her old age, but Hagar thinks they are stripping her of her independence. Similarly, Hagar views emotion as sign of weakness which leads her to appear tough. Unfortunately, Hagar pushes the people close to her away because of being emotionless. Hagar’s inability to accept the loss of her Currie status inadvertently leads to a bitter life. Moreover, Hagar’s mistakes causes her to long for relationships.
In her later stages, Hagar regrets breaking certain ties. Hagar wishes that she could see her father again, or at least get him to visit her son: “A great pity your grandfather never saw you” (Laurence 123). Also, Hagar does not want to remain in her father’s disapproval. Furthermore, Hagar wishes that she could visit her brother Matt, but her pride pulls her back. The main reason why Hagar does not apologize to anyone, or try to establish relationships is because she feels she would appear weak. Similarly, Hagar longs for Bram to act reputable to avoid ruining Hagar’s public figure. During the visit to the cemetery, Hagar states that “I wish he [John Currie, her son] could have looked like Jacob then, wrestling with the angel and besting it… But no “ (Laurence 179). What Hagar means, is that she desires that John would try her best to please her, as she is the stone angel. However, John proves to be just like Bram and more affectionate to him then Hagar. Nevertheless, Hagar no longer wants to be isolated and wants to live a life of respect, such as her father’s.
As Hagar ages, Hagar becomes more prideful to overcome feelings of guilt and inferiority. In spite of being born a Currie, Hagar can not hold on to the reputation that her father built. Subsequently, Mrs. Shipley lives in sorrow since she can not reconcile with her family members. She scrutinizes over her mistake of marrying Bram, but does not make any steps to make up with her father. In addition, her perception of displaying emotion as a weakness does not allow her to make new relationships or maintain them. Hagar believes that she “was alone, never anything else, and never free” (Laurence 292). However, the inability to express feelings is what drives her to be alone. In other words, Hagar isolates herself. Nevertheless, Margaret Laurence uses Hagar Shipley to explain that despair, desire, and admiration is the outcome of dwelling on the past. Therefore, when one ruminates about the past, he or she will be prideful and regret certain decisions.