The character of Hagar, like Herman Melville’s Ahab and Jack London’s Wolf Larsen, is memorably rendered larger than life. Proud as Lucifer, Hagar surveys the wasteland of her life, unbending and unregenerate until nearly the end. That wasteland includes nearly every character in the book as a victim of Hagar’s pride. As Laurence imposes on Hagar the need for self-examination, each character is summoned through flashbacks and memories. Included is Jason Currie, the father whose favor she lost when she defied him. There is also Lottie Drieser, her schoolmate whom she treated as an inferior. Especially, there are the people who became her own family and should have become an intimate part of her life, yet did not. There is Bram, the man she married mostly as an act of rebellion but whose virility she loved, and yet to whom she could never give one word of approval or acceptance. There is Marvin, her first-born, docile and serving by nature, who needed her approval and acceptance desperately but for whom Hagar nurtured an undisguised scorn. There is also Marvin’s wife, Doris, who is the constant recipient of Hagar’s verbal abuse. Each of these characters becomes an embodied indictment of Hagar’s blindness to her own destructiveness. In that parade of witnesses, none is more poignant than John, Hagar’s favorite son, for whom Hagar’s blindness turns out the most destructive of all. It is John’s loss that carries the most stinging indictment and festers in Hagar’s memory like an open wound. Ironically, it is John’s death that becomes the means for Hagar’s “salvation.”
Laurence’s choice to have Hagar carry the point of view and be the sole voice of the story allows the reader to see much more than the tough, forbidding exterior that has kept all the people in Hagar’s life at a distance. Inside, Hagar is fragile, insecure, frightened by her own vulnerability and even more by the possibility that someone will discover that vulnerability. It is this dualism that renders Hagar’s character at once so complex and so compelling to the reader and establishes a sympathetic identification at the deepest level.