Although Margaret Laurence had been publishing fiction for a decade before The Stone Angel was published in 1964, it was this novel that first won her a wide and appreciative audience.
In ninety-year-old Hagar Shipley, the restless, crotchety, and proud protagonist, Laurence creates a memorable character who reveals what it is like to be very old, physically frail, dependent on others, and tormented by memories of the past. Laurence also movingly depicts the sudden dawning of realization in Hagar's mind of where she has gone wrong in life, and what has been the cause of her unhappiness. The novel suggests there is hope that even those most set in their ways can find the inspiration to change for the better, and that change, even at the last stage of life, is never wasted.
The Stone Angel is also a realistic portrayal of life in the prairie towns of western Canada from the late nineteenth century to the Depression of the 1930s and beyond. Laurence went on to write four more books set in the same region, and these, together with The Stone Angel, are collectively known as the Manawaka series. Critics regard the series as one of the finest achievements in contemporary Canadian fiction. The Stone Angel in particular has continued to win respect for its structure, in which present and past are interlinked, its language, which captures the forms of Canadian speech of the period, and the universality of its theme, which at its broadest is one character's search for self-understanding and redemption.