Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Life suspended in stone is one theme of the book. Daisy as narrator often focuses on passionate attachments of those she is describing, and Daisy’s life begins in her parents’ lives: Cuyler Goodwill a skilled stonecutter and Mercy Stone a heavy and still woman. Cuyler believes his marriage to Mercy and his passion for her dislodged “the stone in his throat” and gave him the power of true speech. Cuyler builds a stone tower to mark Mercy’s gravesite, work in which passion and stone interplay in his carving of the images for some of the stones in the tower, leaving him to feel the presence of God in his work, life within stone.
Under his final stone production, the pyramid, Cuyler places a time capsule the small contents of which include Mercy’s wedding ring. He has been unable to find the right words to accompany the ring and give it to Daisy; he finds it far less troubling “to bury this treasure beneath a weight of stone—his pyramid, dense, heavy, complex, full of secrets, a sort of machine.” Cuyler’s treasure beneath stone is echoed when Daisy, her great-niece Victoria, and Victoria’s boyfriend Lewis Roy visit God’s Gate on the Orkney Islands, where the niece and Lewis Roy closely examine the outcropping rock to “find a microscopic tracing of buried life. Life turned to stone.”
The final working of this theme appears as Daisy, aware of dying, returns to the stone images: “Stone is how she finally sees herself.”...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
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That ordinary life is a worthy subject for a novel is a theme that has had its place in all of Shields's fiction. Even when surprising events occur in the novel, they are presented as accidents, and accidents happen to everyone. Daisy's first husband, for example, falls from a window to his death, perhaps startled by Daisy's sneeze. It is odd, but still somehow convincing. Shields explores the experiences and inner lives of unremarkable, unnoticed people with careful detail. The Stone Diaries is a collection of almost mundane details: memories, dreams, gardening advice, letters, recipes, and many lists—grocery lists, a list of Daisy's illnesses, to-do lists, and the like. These accounts all make Daisy's world more convincing. The characters cook, hang laundry on the line to dry, weed the garden, clean house, laugh together, reminisce, keep secrets, economize. These incidentals aren't glossed over to get to the next plot device; in fact, plot is less important in a novel such as this as eliciting an empathetic understanding of the internal workings of her characters' minds, including their flaws. Shields convinces us that Daisy and the rest of her family are no more purposeful or dedicated to a particular goal than her readers are today.
The Stone Diaries reveals the life of a fairly average woman, giving it shape and significance, just as we all bring meaning to our own, ordinary lives. However, the voice of Daisy is not the only one we...
(The entire section is 1253 words.)
Autobiography and Biography
The complex nature of autobiography and biography is a central subject in The Stone Diaries. Autobiography, a first-person account of one's own life, and biography, a third-person account of someone else's life, are both the form and content of this novel. The novel examines whether it is possible for such an account either about oneself or another person to be in any sense a complete and accurate picture of an entire life or of an evolving person's character. The novel suggests that the text is always less than the whole story, always less than the sum of a whole personality or psyche as a person changes over time. Regarding the summary of Cuyler Goodwill's early years, for example, the narrator says: "The recounting of a life is a cheat … our own stories are obscenely distorted." However one writes the story, the story itself is an abridgement of the total life experience. It cannot contain everything and it is not the life itself, but rather a text about the life. Life itself slips away moment by moment, much experience fading from awareness even as it is lived.
That sense of losing track of experience, of one's things, oneself, is countered by an act of the imagination which in the writing of the life story conjures, retrieves, and creates in order to fill in the blanks left by missing information. For example, the narrator describes a time when the child Daisy is ill and lies for weeks in...
(The entire section is 1491 words.)