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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 921

Ninety-year-old Hagar Shipley describes the imposing marble angel that her father had erected to mark her mother’s grave; she recalls visiting the cemetery as a child. Hagar still has two pleasures: smoking cigarettes and annoying her son, Marvin (Marv), and his wife, Doris, who live with Hagar. Often, too, Hagar revisits the past.

Hagar reminisces about being six years old. She is proud to be the daughter of Jason Currie, a Manawaka merchant who favors Hagar because she is more like him than are her two older brothers, Matthew (Matt) and Daniel (Dan). At school, Hagar’s best friend is the doctor’s daughter, and she looks down on Telford Simmons, the undertaker’s son, and on Lottie Drieser, a poor, illegitimate child. One winter, Dan falls into the river and becomes desperately ill. Hagar refuses to put on a shawl and sit by Dan and pretend to be his mother. Instead, Matt does so, and he sits with his brother until he dies.

The elderly Hagar falls again. At tea, Marv broaches the subject of selling the house, but Hagar points out angrily that the house is hers, not theirs. To mollify Doris, Hagar agrees to a visit from her minister, Mr. Troy. When Mr. Troy calls, Hagar mentions that though her father had died a rich man, he left her nothing. She remembers being sent by him to finishing school in Toronto and then being kept by him from teaching. Hagar had begun to see Brampton (Bram) Shipley, whom even Lottie calls common. When Hagar’s father points out that Bram is a nobody, Hagar marries him anyway and moves out to his farm. Her father never communicates with her again.

After finding a newspaper with a marked advertisement for Silverthreads, a nursing home, Hagar again announces that she will not move from her home. She remembers hearing of her brother, Matt’s, death from influenza. She also recalls being so embarrassed by Bram’s vulgarity that she will no longer go into Manawaka with him. Marv and Doris keep insisting that the nursing home is an ideal solution for their problems, but Hagar is too busy remembering the pleasures of lovemaking to pay much attention to the two.

While she waits to see her doctor, Hagar remembers having sympathized with Bram after he had lost his favorite horse. In the evening, Marv and Doris take Hagar to visit Silverthreads, and Hagar relives the birth of Marv, the son she never really loved. She undergoes a battery of tests, but Marv is secretive about the results. Hagar then remembers John’s birth, his wildness as a child, and her hopes for him. She also recalls being so poor that she had to peddle eggs in Manawaka and sell her prized possessions to Lottie, whose husband, Telford, is now a bank manager.

After Hagar learns from Marv that she is to enter the nursing home in a week, she decides to run away. She remembers having run away to Vancouver with John. This time, she will go to Shadow Point, a quiet place on the sea. After cashing her pension check, she takes two different buses and finally arrives at Shadow Point, where, with some snacks she has bought, she makes her way down some stairs and moves into a deserted house. She thinks about her days working as a housekeeper for Mr. Oatley and about John lying to her about having friends and later pretending to be Mr. Oatley’s nephew.

Hagar is cold, afraid, and confused at Shadow Point. She remembers losing her savings in the stock-market crash and John returning to the farm. She remembers hearing that Bram had been dying. Hagar had dutifully returned to her husband, who could no longer recognize her. She discovered that under the influence of Lottie’s daughter, Arlene, John had cut down his drinking. After Bram died, Hagar had him buried in the Currie family plot.

The summer after Bram’s death, Hagar had returned to the farm. After learning that John and Arlene, though both unemployed, plan to marry, Hagar persuades Lottie to send Arlene away.

At Shadow Point, realizing that she cannot climb back to the house after falling once again, Hagar moves into the nearby cannery. There she meets Murray Lees, an insurance salesperson, who tells her about the death of his young son in a house fire, prompting Hagar to tell him about the death of her son, John. After having learned that Arlene was leaving him, John had gotten drunk and driven onto a railroad trestle. The car had been hit by a train, killing both John and Arlene. Hagar then had returned to Vancouver, and with an inheritance from Mr. Oatley, she had bought her house.

Lees covers Hagar with his coat, and she falls asleep. When she wakes up, Marv and Doris are with her. Marv tells his mother what her X rays reveal and then takes her to the hospital. She is her usual defiant self, infuriating the nurses. To her surprise, however, she finds herself making friends with the other patients. Hagar gives Doris a sapphire ring for her granddaughter, Tina, and when her grandson, Steven, comes to visit, she tells him that he has the good looks of his grandfather Shipley. Hagar even tells Marv that he has been a better son than John, trusting that she will be forgiven for the lie. In one last triumphant act, Hagar snatches a drink being held by Doris, and then dies.

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