Study Guide

The Stone Angel

by Margaret Laurence

The Stone Angel Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Stone Angel offers a portrait of a remarkable character who at age ninety confronts her mortality and is terrified, for all she can see behind her is a wasteland of personal failures. Yet her terror becomes the necessary catalyst for a change of heart and a measure of grace that marks her final days.

Hagar Shipley looms large on nearly every page. The novel works mainly through the flashback memories of a ninety-year-old matron who faces the need for a nursing home. Her case is terminal, but she is not ready to die. Too many ghosts from the past haunt her memories and preclude peace for facing the future. Those ghosts are exposed through a skillful interweaving of past and present that cumulatively render an insightful examination of a fallen angel whose overweening pride led her into self-exile.

Hagar loses her mother early in life. She never makes her peace with that death. Yet her imperious, prominent, and self-made father tolerates no weakness of any kind; thus Hagar learns to shut the valves of emotion and live a life of negation and stoicism. Strong-willed like her father, she defies him when she comes of age and chooses to marry Bram Shipley, a good-looking but, in her father’s eyes, good-for-nothing widower with two children who lives on a rundown homestead that never would afford anyone a decent living. No family member attends Hagar’s wedding, and Hagar’s family relationship is never restored. Besides, she soon discovers that she has made a terrible mistake. Bram has no intention of being made over by a snooty young woman who has finishing-school and pedigree credentials and pretensions of a superior sophistication. Instead, Hagar finds herself dragged down by his crudeness, poverty, and hopeless future. Still, they have two sons together: Marvin, whom she hardly acknowledges as her own, and...

(The entire section is 754 words.)

The Stone Angel Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Ninety-year-old Hagar Shipley describes the imposing marble angel that her father had erected to mark her mother’s grave; she recalls visiting the cemetery as a child. Hagar still has two pleasures: smoking cigarettes and annoying her son, Marvin (Marv), and his wife, Doris, who live with Hagar. Often, too, Hagar revisits the past.

Hagar reminisces about being six years old. She is proud to be the daughter of Jason Currie, a Manawaka merchant who favors Hagar because she is more like him than are her two older brothers, Matthew (Matt) and Daniel (Dan). At school, Hagar’s best friend is the doctor’s daughter, and she looks down on Telford Simmons, the undertaker’s son, and on Lottie Drieser, a poor, illegitimate child. One winter, Dan falls into the river and becomes desperately ill. Hagar refuses to put on a shawl and sit by Dan and pretend to be his mother. Instead, Matt does so, and he sits with his brother until he dies.

The elderly Hagar falls again. At tea, Marv broaches the subject of selling the house, but Hagar points out angrily that the house is hers, not theirs. To mollify Doris, Hagar agrees to a visit from her minister, Mr. Troy. When Mr. Troy calls, Hagar mentions that though her father had died a rich man, he left her nothing. She remembers being sent by him to finishing school in Toronto and then being kept by him from teaching. Hagar had begun to see Brampton (Bram) Shipley, whom even Lottie calls common. When Hagar’s father points out that Bram is a nobody, Hagar marries him anyway and moves out to his farm. Her father never communicates with her again.

After finding a newspaper with a marked advertisement for Silverthreads, a nursing home, Hagar again announces that she will not move from her home. She remembers hearing of her brother, Matt’s, death from influenza. She also recalls being so embarrassed by Bram’s vulgarity that she will no longer go into Manawaka with him. Marv and Doris keep insisting that the nursing home is an ideal solution for their problems, but Hagar is too busy remembering the pleasures of lovemaking to pay much attention to the two.

While she waits to see her doctor, Hagar remembers having sympathized with Bram after he had lost his favorite horse. In...

(The entire section is 921 words.)

The Stone Angel Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hagar Shipley, ninety years old, dominates the action in The Stone Angel, the first of Laurence’s five books that treat the experiences of women whose lives intersect with the fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba. Hagar tells her story in the first person, and a review of her past life is woven into the narrative. Hagar was born in Manawaka; her mother died giving birth to her. Hagar has never accepted this loss. She associates any weakness on the part of others as symbolic of the weakness of her mother, who was not able to survive childbirth. To compensate, Hagar has always been a stern, unremitting judge of others. She has lost touch with the sensitive side of herself.

Laurence provides a compelling symbol of Hagar early in the novel. The town cemetery is dominated by the statue of a stone angel placed there in her mother’s honor. In an ironic twist of fate, the carver did not add the eyes of the angel, and the author suggests that this symbolic “blindness” is reflected in Hagar’s view of herself, her relationships with her father and her brothers, her marriage to Bram Shipley, and her attitudes toward her two sons, Marvin and John. Hagar has never seen herself for who she truly is. Reared by a maiden aunt, Hagar was dominated by her father, who had a narrow conception of how a young woman should act and what role she should fulfill. Hagar tries to escape her father’s domination by marrying Shipley, an uncouth farmer who shows little promise for managing his property. Before long, Hagar and Bram argue constantly; soon they live separate lives even though they live together. Eventually, they separate when Hagar leaves with their younger son, John.

Hagar invests all of her emotional energy in her son John. She rears him alone and becomes blind to his character as it develops in a direction similar to that of Bram. John becomes all that Hagar desires that he not become. He defies her just as she defied her father and just as Bram defied her. John even falls in love with a woman whom his mother considers beneath him. Unfortunately, Hagar cannot see and accept the deep affection the two feel toward each other. John and his lover die a tragic death, the result of another defiant act on John’s part. Hagar never forgives herself for driving him away and, in her mind, indirectly causing his death. The day she sees her dead son in the hospital is the day her grieving heart turns to stone.

The image of stone is an important part of the...

(The entire section is 1018 words.)

The Stone Angel Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The focus of the novel’s action is the failing mind of Hagar Shipley. At ninety, Hagar has become clumsy and forgetful, but ironically her mind is “rampant with memory” of her past life. Hagar lives with her elder son, Marvin, and his wife, Doris, who are themselves elderly and who are becoming increasingly unable to take care of her. Their suggestion that she be moved to a nursing home causes her to recoil in horror and insist on her right to live in her own home. Yet despite her protestations, Hagar is subjected to a surprise visit to “Silverthreads,” which she finds to be as odious as she imagined. When her exile to the nursing home seems imminent, she secretly flees to an abandoned fish cannery which she once saw at Shadow Point.

The journey to Shadow Point underlines the fragility of Hagar’s physical and mental state. Her exhausted body is barely able to carry her to her destination, and once she arrives there, she realizes that she has forgotten to bring water or warm clothing. That night, in the cold of the abandoned cannery manager’s house, Hagar imagines that she is at home and that Doris has forgotten to turn on the furnace. The physical strains of overexertion and of her exposure to cold during the night intensify Hagar’s mental disorientation and throw her more deeply into the emotional twilight of memory.

The next day, Hagar awakens thirsty but finds rainwater in a rusty bucket near the house. She then blithely...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

The Stone Angel Overview

In The Stone Angel Hagar Shipley thinks back over all her ninety years, from her childhood in a small Prairie town, to her marriage to...

(The entire section is 44 words.)

The Stone Angel Summary

Chapter 1
Ninety-year-old Hagar Shipley, who lives with her son Marvin and his wife, Doris, reminisces about her childhood in...

(The entire section is 1292 words.)