How does Margaret Lawrence move from present to the past?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Stone Angel, Margaret Lawrence uses flashbacks to move from present to past. In a series of hauntingly emotional flashbacks, protagonist Hargar Shipley recounts the story of her life as she reflects on her impending mortality. Hagar's flashbacks range from mere weeks ago, all the way back to her earliest memories at age six.

Lawrence's choice of flashback as narrative device relates to the content and themes of her story. The Stone Angel deals primarily with the theme of regret. Now advanced in age and facing a terminal illness, Hagar casts a judgmental eye on her past deeds. Her flashbacks constitute more than a simple rendering of memoir. Rather, through these flashbacks, Hagar uncovers a fierce, aching loneliness: a despair not of the past, but of the present moment.

Yet the narrative device of flashback also provides the protagonist a way out of her despair. As Hagar reflects upon her various experiences, relationships, and choices, she comes to understand them differently. Rather than drown in self-judgement, she is able to find peace and meaning in her life. By the end of the story, Hagar's flashbacks have served as a sort of processing mechanism for her. Finally, she is able to search out her life to find self-forgiveness and redemption. 

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The Stone Angel

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