What is Hagar's character in The Stone Angel?
Hagar Currie Shipley, the protagonist and first person viewpoint character of Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel, is a complex character. As the book opens, she is 90 years old and dying of cancer. She is also suffering from a degree of dementia. Her family (her son Marvin and his wife Doris) is attempting to place her in a nursing home. She temporarily manages to escape to Shadow Point, an area with an abandoned cannery. There she meets Murray Lees, who has come to escape memories of the death of his son, and they share a bottle of wine and talk. When the night is over, Lees fetches Marvin and Doris and she is returned to the nursing home. Much of the story consists of Hagar's memories of her past and insights into her present.
The stone angel of the title is a monument Hagar's father had erected over Hagar's mother's grave. Oddly, the angel has no eyes, just blank stone ovals. It acts as a symbol for Hagar, in one way blind, but in another solid, unyielding, and enduring. Hagar's character is repeatedly compared to stone. For Laurence, in some ways she represents the life of the prairie, harsh and unforgiving, and yet somehow admirable in its staunch ability to endure. In many ways Hagar is revealed as an unsympathetic character, too proud and unyielding to satisfy the emotional needs of others, there is something inherently admirable about her discovery of her own inner strength and her refusal to yield to the frailty of her body. The first person viewpoint allows us to see inside what might appear the disconnected speech and acts resulting from dementia to the internal logic that motivates Hagar, a fierce pride and independence. When she returns to the nursing home, her strengths turns from rebellion into a willingness to cooperate with others as a gift to them rather than as form of yielding to external exigencies.