Hagar Shipley, ninety years old, dominates the action in The Stone Angel, the first of Laurence’s five books that treat the experiences of women whose lives intersect with the fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba. Hagar tells her story in the first person, and a review of her past life is woven into the narrative. Hagar was born in Manawaka; her mother died giving birth to her. Hagar has never accepted this loss. She associates any weakness on the part of others as symbolic of the weakness of her mother, who was not able to survive childbirth. To compensate, Hagar has always been a stern, unremitting judge of others. She has lost touch with the sensitive side of herself.
Laurence provides a compelling symbol of Hagar early in the novel. The town cemetery is dominated by the statue of a stone angel placed there in her mother’s honor. In an ironic twist of fate, the carver did not add the eyes of the angel, and the author suggests that this symbolic “blindness” is reflected in Hagar’s view of herself, her relationships with her father and her brothers, her marriage to Bram Shipley, and her attitudes toward her two sons, Marvin and John. Hagar has never seen herself for who she truly is. Reared by a maiden aunt, Hagar was dominated by her father, who had a narrow conception of how a young woman should act and what role she should fulfill. Hagar tries to escape her father’s domination by marrying Shipley, an uncouth farmer who shows little promise for managing his property. Before long, Hagar and Bram argue constantly; soon they live separate lives even though they live together. Eventually, they separate when Hagar leaves with their younger son, John.
Hagar invests all of her emotional energy in her son John. She rears him alone and becomes blind to his character as it develops in a direction similar to that of Bram. John becomes all that Hagar desires that he not become. He defies her just as she defied her father and just as Bram defied her. John even falls in love with a woman whom his mother considers beneath him. Unfortunately, Hagar cannot see and accept the deep affection the two feel toward each other. John and his lover die a tragic death, the result of another defiant act on John’s part. Hagar never forgives herself for driving him away and, in her mind, indirectly causing his death. The day she sees her dead son in the hospital is the day her grieving heart turns to stone.
The image of stone is an important part of the...
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