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.