Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Stone Diaries is the story of the life of Daisy Goodwill Hoad Flett. The novel is divided into ten chapters, beginning with “Birth, 1905” and ending with “Death.” A fictional biography of a Canadian American woman, the novel spans her childhood, marriages, children, work, decline, and death.
Narrated by several different voices, but most often by Daisy herself, the novel weaves a complex pattern of stories that belie the chronological layout of the book. The description of Daisy’s own birth, for example, is told by Daisy in the first person. The narration begins in Tyndall, Manitoba, with Daisy’s mother, Mercy Stone Goodwill, making dinner on a hot summer day; one hour later, the mother has died giving birth. Interwoven into this chapter are the courtship stories of Mercy and Cuyler, freighted with emotions that could never have been described to the child by her father and revealing a first mystery: Mercy had not hidden her pregnancy from her husband but had simply been unaware of it herself.
Daisy is cared for by her parents’ neighbor, Clarentine Flett, who takes the infant child with her when she leaves her husband and goes to Winnipeg to live with her son, a college professor. The narrative in this chapter includes description of Cuyler’s building the stone tower on the grave of Mercy, and letters from Barker and Clarentine Flett advance the plot. Daisy’s character develops through her response to illness, a...
(The entire section is 743 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Daisy Goodwill is born to Mercy Stone Goodwill, a large woman who had not realized she was pregnant until she was giving birth. Mercy dies in childbirth, and her devastated husband, Cuyler, leaves Daisy in the care of a neighbor, Clarentine Flett.
Clarentine soon leaves her husband and moves with Daisy to Winnipeg, where the two live with Clarentine’s botanist son, Barker. Clarentine begins a flower business. Cuyler remains in Tyndall, building a massive stone monument to his late wife; the monument is known as the Goodwill Tower. People come from all over to view it, not realizing that it actually obscures Mercy’s headstone.
Daisy is now eleven years old. After surviving a bout of measles followed by pneumonia, her guardian, Clarentine, dies in an accident. Cuyler, thanks to the attention he received from the Goodwill Tower, has gotten a lucrative job offer in Bloomington, Indiana. He comes to Tyndall to claim Daisy.
Eleven years later, Daisy is engaged to be married. Her fiancé is an alcoholic who dies on their honeymoon, leaving the marriage unconsummated. Magnus Flett, Barker’s father, has been so affected by his wife’s abandonment that he returns to his home on the Orkney Islands and memorizes his wife’s copy of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. After Daisy’s first husband dies, she spends the next nine years living at home with her father, who is now remarried. Thanks to some money she receives from...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Stone Diaries, Shields depicts the life of her fictional heroine, Daisy Goodwill Flett, by gathering the bits and pieces of that life into a form that resembles an autobiography or personal diary. This arrangement allows her to comment on the nature of autobiography and the fragmented ways in which one person must piece together his or her own life. The text is divided into sections reflecting the major events of Daisy’s life: “birth,” “childhood,” “love,” “marriage,” “motherhood,” “work,” “sorrow,” “ease,” “illness and decline,” and “death.” The neatness of these descriptors, however, is overshadowed by the slipperiness of memory and consequence. As the narrator says at the beginning of the novel:The recounting of a life is a cheat, of course; I admit the truth of this; even our own stories are obscenely distorted; it is a wonder really that we keep faith with the simple container of our existence.
Throughout the retelling of Daisy’s life, the reader may wonder how Daisy knows the information that she recalls. Furthermore, narrative shifts occur periodically throughout the novel, sometimes altering the point of view to another character’s perspective. Other times, Daisy is clearly speaking as the first-person narrator. Other disruptions include newspaper articles inserted in the text, as well as letters, dialogue, lists, and even photos. These disruptions put...
(The entire section is 883 words.)
Epigraph and Genealogy
The Stone Diaries begins with an epigraph, which is identified as a quotation from a poem, "The Grandmother Cycle" by Judith Downing, published in Converse Quarterly in Autumn, no year given. Judith Downing is a granddaughter of Daisy Goodwill Flett. The quotation, which appears on the page before the genealogy, stresses the failure of communication to convey exactly what is intended; yet it affirms the value of the individual who attempts to communicate. Despite the discrepancy between intention and statement or action, a person's life is still important, the quotation asserts, and "could be called a monument." This epigraph, which claims to be a quotation from a published poem written by a real person, initiates the pretense maintained throughout that the text is a factual record and not fiction. Moreover, the point that the life lived is a person's true monument counteracts the effect of the stone monument Cuyler Goodwill erects over the grave of his first wife, Mercy Stone Goodwill. Ironically, that stone monument hides altogether the grave marker which records the dates of Mercy's brief life and thus the monument eclipses the facts of the life it seeks to memorialize.
The genealogy includes four generations of the Goodwill and Flett families. The span of years encompasses just about all of the twentieth century. Daisy is born in 1905 and her death sometime in the 1990s is later than all...
(The entire section is 5330 words.)