Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Laurence’s own perception of the meaning of her novel evolved over the years. Initially, she thought that she had written about the nature of freedom through Hagar’s struggle for her own independence and coming to terms with her own past. Later, she noted that the theme was really about survival, the human need to survive until the moment of death with some kind of dignity and sense of personal value. Much later still, Laurence observed that Hagar at the end learns what constitutes her true significance: the ability to give and receive love.

The Stone Angel is about all of these things. It surely is about the many mental and emotional barriers that can stultify the freedom to be what one deep down wishes and needs to be. Psychic and spiritual survival requires that those barriers be recognized for what they are. Only then can a person be free to relate truly to others. The essence of relationships, Hagar discovers, is the ability to communicate and love. She does just that in her waning hours, though the habit of long neglect makes the efforts both poignant and comical.

Laurence has steeped her story in biblical allusions and imagery. The most obvious is the allusion to Hagar, Abram’s Egyptian maidservant whose pride forced her to flee to the wilderness and whose son Ishmael was destined to be “a wild donkey of a man.” Desert images of drought abound; the dominant color is gray, and the flowers are mostly those associated with death. In this environment, Hagar turns into a “stone angel.” The water imagery at the end of the book signals the turning point of Hagar’s revival, recovery, and redemption. Yet the ending, though redemptive, is hardly triumphant. What prevails in the reader reflects Hagar’s own state of mind: a profound sense of regret that nearly a whole lifetime had been wasted on appearances, victimizing both self and others.

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Vivid and intact, Hagar’s memories often fuse with present reality to produce a temporal counterpoint which lends the novel its flashback structure. Indeed, at the novel’s climax, past and present coalesce so completely that Hagar relives the night of John’s death and revises its history. She imagines that John has returned safely from his night out and that she is given the opportunity to apologize which, in reality, she missed. Mr. Lees becomes the tangible medium through which this intersection of past and present, of reality and desire, takes place. Hagar touches him, believing that she is touching her son. Empathetically recognizing her emotional need, Mr. Lees plays along with Hagar’s delusion to its conclusion, allowing her to exorcise her guilt. That night, Hagar is at last able to sleep peacefully.

Hagar’s peaceful sleep on her last night at the cannery foreshadows her death several days later in the hospital, but her conscious approach to death is by no means peaceful. In the hospital, Hagar begins to struggle with the meaning of her life more tenaciously than ever. She emerges from the cocoon of memory in which she has been absorbed and begins to overcome her alienating pride and to experience life with joy.

While listening to Doris’ clergyman sing the verses of a hymn of rejoicing, Hagar has an epiphanic insight into her own willful role in her life’s unhappiness: “Every good joy I might have held, in my man or any...

(The entire section is 477 words.)


(Novels for Students)

The dominant theme of The Stone Angel is that of pride. As Hagar herself realizes in a moment of insight near the...

(The entire section is 1112 words.)