Role of Imagery in Stone Angel
It is common in society for individuals to look no further than the external appearance of others. This is also true in many novels, such as The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. Margaret Laurence shows this by using imagery. Imagery is employed in the novel to help intensify the significance of important events and circumstances of the novel. Margaret Laurence used flower and water imagery in her novel The Stone Angel to represent Hagar’s way of life. Through the image of flowers and water Margaret Laurence created a strong-willed character who refused to be herself.
There are two different kinds of flowers throughout this novel. There is the image of wild flowers and the image of cultivated flowers. Much like people, some are wild, while 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 how she would be viewed if she were to act spontaneously. An example of this is when she wants to cry in her room but she cannot for fear Doris may see her. “What a disgrace to be seen crying by the fat Doris,”(6) she says. Hagar feels normal emotions and wants to show them, but she is unable to because she is so worried about how people will view her. Crying is seen as a weakness to her and she refuses to be seen as weak.
Hagar held a high affection for lilacs, the flowers which grew at the Shipley place. These flowers were not taken care of. They “hung like bunches of mild mauve grapes from branches with leaves like dark green hearts.”(29) Hagar was a lot like these flowers in many ways. She did not care about living a normal, natural life. She needed to be seen as an educated, independent woman who did not need help from anyone This caused her to be in miserable conditions, much like the flowers. She was uncomfortable with the life she was living. Years later, when Hagar returned to the Shipley place, she found all her flowers were dead. Her lilacs were “burnt yellow, and the branches snapped if you touched them.,”(169) and her marigolds, which she always took care of were “a dead loss.” (169) The death of these flowers showed that a person cannot live an artificial life, since her marigolds were cultivated continuously. Hagar lived her life artificially, with very little naturalness or spontaneity. She suppressed her enjoyment of a free life for the sake of appearances.
When Hagar left for her final journey of self-discovery, she realizes she has led a poor, artificial life. Although she realizes this very late in her life, she tries to do away with this pretentiousness. When Hagar is at the cannery she uses this time alone to be herself. The June bugs she places in her hair help her to be free.
I take off my hat – it’s hardly suitable for here, anyway, a prim domestic hat sprouting cultivated flowers. Then with considerable care I arrange the jade and copper pieces in my hair. I glance into my purse mirror. The effect is pleasing. They liven my grey, transform me. (216)
Hagar realizes she is happier living the life she wants to live. When she takes off her domestic hat it is like she is letting go of who she was. She feels alive with the June bugs in her hair. They allow her to escape from the real world and slip into a world where she is a happy person who does not care what other people think of her. The flowers held Hagar back until she realized she can be free.
The water imagery was presented many times throughout the novel to help develop the theme of death. Water is viewed as the center of life since, without it, life would cease to exist. This is evident when the drought occurred in Manawaka. Hagar returned during the drought to find all of Shipley’s flowers and vegetables dead. “They’d had no water this year,” Hagar said. She had not yet realized 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.
On her adventure at Shadow Point, Hagar experiences an actual lack of water. She had gone shopping on the way to her destination but 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,” thinks Hagar. “Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink. That’s my predicament.”(186) Although she may not realize it, this has always been Hagar’s predicament. Life always surrounded her but she could never have a taste of what life really meant. She lived to impress people, not act like herself. She refused to let her emotions show for fear people would see the real Hagar. Hagar’s inner feelings and emotions had been dying of thirst all her life.
Hagar is found at Shadow Point. She was taken to a hospital where she would spend her last days. As she lay in her death bed she requests a glass of water to quench her thirst. As Doris tries to help, Hagar says
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’ll not countenance anyone else’s holding it for me. I wrest from her the glass, full of water to be had for the taking. I hold it in my own hands. (308)
Hagar’s final drink of water symbolizes a cleansing of herself, of her guilt. Even in her final moments of her life, her pride will not allow her to accept her daughter-in-law’s help. This glass of water was an attempt at rejuvenating herself for life after death.
Imagery plays a big part throughout The Stone Angel. The flower image helps Hagar to hide her emotions and feelings until she can free herself from it. The water image symbolized Hagar’s own thirst for more. These images help show build Hagar’s character. Margaret Laurence uses flower and water imagery in her novel The Stone Angel to represent Hagar’s way of life. Without this imagery, Hagar would not be such a powerful character.
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