Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is told through Hagar’s ninety-year-old eyes, with small events triggering flashbacks that reveal her history. The novel’s title is explained in the opening pages: The stone angel was a monument erected by Hagar’s father for his wife, who died giving birth to Hagar. Intended to impress, the angel is doubly blind: Made of unfeeling stone, she is also eyeless, and harkens people to heaven without knowing them. As Hagar’s narrative reveals, she has similar faults: Her pride and her unswerving sense of superiority often “blind” her to other people. Hagar is not apologetic about her past, but she does desire understanding.

Hagar’s thoughts of the angel spark memories. As youngest child and only daughter of the town’s storekeeper, Hagar is sure of her high place in the world. Her father is strict and undemonstrative, and he teaches Hagar these qualities. Inordinately proud of his position in the town, he will not jeopardize it. Laurence shows Manawaka’s social hierarchy: “No-Name” Lottie Dreiser is barred from the Curries’ house, and the “half-breeds” on the fringes of society are unacknowledged—although the Currie children secretly socialize with both.

Hagar’s fear of weakness is shown with her brother Dan’s death. Matt realizes that their dying and delirious brother wants to see their mother. He asks Hagar to wear her old shawl and to comfort Dan. Hagar refuses, remembering what she has heard about her mother’s meekness and frailty—qualities she detests. At age eight, Hagar has chosen her father’s steeliness and determination.

At eighteen, Hagar is sent to finishing school, where she learns social niceties such as embroidery, menu planning, and managing servants. Her father is pleased with her polish. Refusing Hagar’s wish to teach, he asks her to stay in Manawaka to act as his hostess. Bitterly, Hagar does his bidding for three years. To her father’s horrified disapproval, she then recklessly marries Bram Shipley and begins life on his farm. She hates Bram’s shiftlessness and vulgarity. Though he is...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Stone Angel is applauded as a Canadian classic and Laurence’s best work. Beloved in Canadian literature and widely studied, it is one of the few authentic and unsentimental views of old age and dying; Hagar’s voice is truthful and uncompromising. Laurence, who was only thirty-eight when the novel was published, made Hagar’s complexity believable; she once proudly wrote that the novel had been studied in hospital geriatrics courses. The Stone Angel, along with Scottish writer Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori (1959), is one of the few novels to focus on the disintegration of the body, the role of memory in aging, the pride in independence, and the struggle for identity among older people.

Laurence, a feminist and activist, often wrote about the damage done to the individual by internalizing standards of “proper” behavior. This novel is part of her “Manawaka cycle,” books that focus on a small community. Manawaka’s hypocrisy and condemnation of those who breach acceptable standards leads Hagar to rebellion and, later, despair. The town’s (and her father’s) attitude to the illegitimate Lottie and the half-Indian children reinforced rigid intolerance. The pride of Hagar’s father in his social standing made him reject his children when they needed him. Pride’s painful results culminate when Hagar objects to her son’s marriage because she believes that John’s background is superior, and this attitude leads to John’s and Arlene’s deaths. After this tragedy, Hagar says that she has turned to stone. Until the end of the novel, when she confesses her pain, she is unable to weep or show great joy.

Hagar is admirable for her courage, her willingness to strike out on her own, and her strength; as Marvin says, she is a “holy terror.” As in several of Laurence’s other works, the main character’s motherlessness is important: Lacking strong female role models, Hagar becomes as inflexible and distant, and as blind, as her father. Her father repeatedly tells her of men’s “terrible thoughts”; Hagar consequently denies her sexuality and sees love as a weakness. Hagar is hurt by the double standard that denies women’s enjoyment of sex and need for independence. Laurence described herself as a religious writer, and Hagar’s enlightenment at novel’s end, though not specifically religious, shows hope for even the most “unregenerate sinner.”

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

An Authentic Canadian Literature
Laurence once declared that Canadian literature came of age around the time of World War II. It...

(The entire section is 722 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The novel has two settings: a frame and a narrative, both set in a realistic representation of Canada. The narrative is set in Hagar...

(The entire section is 72 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The present-day setting of the novel, in an unnamed town in Canada, is unremarkable, but Hagar's memories of Manawaka...

(The entire section is 979 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

When Laurence began her literary career, to describe oneself as a Canadian female writer from the Prairies was almost to apologize three...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The character Hagar holds strong moral beliefs and forms lasting opinions about the merits of every person she knows. She is not shy about...

(The entire section is 246 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1890s: Presbyterian clergyman Ralph Connor, one of the earliest of Canadian writers of the West, writes best-selling novels that draw...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What was the actual life expectancy for people born the year that the character Hagar was born in this novel? What factors influence life...

(The entire section is 355 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. In North American families, what living arrangements are commonly made by and for people of advanced years? When mobility, health or...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the topic of elder care. What are some typical problems that arise when people care for an elderly parent, and how are these shown...

(The entire section is 106 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

There was a made-for-television movie based on The Stone Angel broadcast on CBCTV, which also adapted other Manawaka novels by...

(The entire section is 259 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

A version of The Stone Angel on audiocassette is available from Northwest Passages, 628 Penzer Street Kamloops, BC, V2C 3G5, Canada....

(The entire section is 26 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple (1991), edited by Sandra Martz, is a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs that...

(The entire section is 254 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Challenging Territory: The Writing of Margaret Laurence. Edited by Christian Riegal. University of Alberta Press, 1997.


(The entire section is 143 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Beckman-Long, Brenda, "The Stone Angel as a Feminine Confessional Novel," in Challenging Territory: The...

(The entire section is 448 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cameron, Donald. Conversations with Canadian Novelists. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1973. In one chapter, a close friend of Laurence talks with her about family, religious influences, travels, and sources for her novels. Laurence discusses the influence of her grandfather and the women in her family on The Stone Angel.

Coger, Greta M. R. McCormick, ed. New Perspectives on Margaret Laurence: Poetic Narrative, Multiculturalism, and Feminism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Features a variety of critical approaches by national and international contributors.

Gunnars, Kristjana, ed....

(The entire section is 274 words.)