How does Margaret Laurence portray the extreme old age of Hagar in The Stone Angel?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a really interesting question, and the answer is certainly not just "description."  No.  In fact, most of Hagar's extreme old age (and depreciation due to the sin of pride) comes from Laurence's use of both flashback and/or memories that always lead to a philosophical discussion.

Hagar proves her life, in all stages, to be a compete land of desolation.  Yes, she is described as ninety years old, but that is only the beginning.  What has aged her is her pride. 

Too bad to deprive them, but if a person doesn't look after herself in this world, no one else is likely to.

Hagar reveals this through a series of vignettes that are both flashbacks and memories.  For example, in her young life Hagar denies her father's blessing on a marriage because she simply feels passion for a young man who is dancing (Bram Shipley).  She drinks wine with tramps in abandoned buildings, runs away from finishing schools, ducks from her obligations as mother, and she eventually lies to her son on her deathbed.  It is bit redeeming, though, that Hagar admits her pride at the end.

In conclusion, it's safe to say that both memory and flashback reveal the most about Hagar's extreme old age.  It is in this way (and with this vivid style) that Laurence makes Hagar such a striking character in the world of Literature.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is a fascinating attempt to create a vision of old age that avoids stereotypes and sentimentality. Hagar, rather than being marginalized within the narrative as she is in her life, is a vivid character who is seen in the process of raging, as it were, against the dying of the light. Rather than see her from the outside as weak or confused, we see her inner strength and the internal logic of her actions.

The central literary technique Laurence uses is making Hagar the viewpoint character. Although from an outside perspective, we can see Hagar's mind and body failing, by viewing her own thoughts, we can see and admire the vitality and logic of Hagar's acts. While from the exterior, we might dismiss Hagar's journey to the coast and night in the cannery as simply an example of a person with dementia getting lost, through the first person narration we share her horror of being warehoused in a nursing home, her deep pride and desire for independence, and the nearly visionary nature of her journey. Her encounter with Murray becomes an almost transcendent swan song, a last moment of joy and freedom before she finally reconciles her weakness and impending death.

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The Stone Angel

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