(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Stone Angel examines the patterns that damage successive generations. Hagar’s hatred of emotionality, instilled by her father, blunts her enjoyment of life and ensures her harsh and overly critical attitude toward other people. Hagar comments on the stone angel’s blindness, but she does not see that she herself also unseeingly tries to force people into her own model of proper behavior. Later the angel is desecrated: After Hagar has married and left Bram, she briefly returns to Manawaka to find that, to her horror, the angel has toppled. When John grudgingly raises her, Hagar sees that the angel’s mouth has been garishly lipsticked. She tries to scrub away the red, but a stain remains. After that day, the angel crookedly marks the Currie-Shipley resting place. Hagar’s experiences have similarly knocked her from her pedestal, and she is also “crooked” in the way in which she sees the world. Only at the age of ninety does she realize that she wanted to speak her heart’s truth, unrestrained by pride and propriety. Like her father, she was shackled by a pride born of fear.

Laurence juxtaposes Hagar’s parallel stories. Hagar’s present, as an unwillingly frail and often tyrannical old woman, is carried throughout, but Hagar’s memories and explanations of the past are equally important. There are nineteen major changes between past and present time, often triggered by Hagar’s present sensations: For example, a painting, children playing on the beach, or a flowered dress can spark her painful and often comic memories. The first four chapters detail Hagar’s thoughts before she runs away from Marvin; the next four focus on her actions and thoughts while at Shadow Point; and the last two center on the hospital and her last days before death. In the last chapters, past and present become blurred: Hagar’s remembering becomes so intense that she essentially relives the pain and happiness that she experienced. Toward the end of the novel, Hagar begins to think about events from others’ points of view—insights that have been all too rare.


(The entire section is 851 words.)