The Stone Diaries Critical Evaluation
by Carol Shields

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Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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The question of the narrator or narrators in The Stone Diaries is an important one. Who is telling Daisy’s story? Is it Daisy, or someone else, or both? As Penelope Fitzgerald notes in a 1993 review of The Stone Diaries, the novel is, “among other things, about the limitations of autobiography.” Throughout the work, Carol Shields makes use of ephemera such as photographs, letters, diary entries, a detailed family tree, and newspaper clippings to tell Daisy’s story; she also uses first- and third-person narrative.

Fitzgerald is just one of many critics to note that the novel, through its structure, comments on the blurring of autobiography and fiction. In the story, Daisy tells of things that she could not possibly know, such as her mother’s thoughts and feelings in the moments leading up to Daisy’s birth, and her father’s dying thoughts fifty years later.

Although parts of the novel read like a standard autobiography—Daisy’s life is told from birth to death, but with significant gaps—it differs in that her story is told not from her point of view alone. After Daisy shares the events leading up to her birth, the story switches to third-person narration; this narrative change and the telling of Daisy’s story through the people around her lead to questions about the level of control people have of their own life stories—does anyone really know anyone else?

Daisy seems to disappear many times in the story, as other characters take on a more prominent role; two examples are the stories of Magnus Flett and of her father’s building of the Goodwill Tower. Even when the narrative deals directly with Daisy’s life—points in the text where her voice would be expected, such as the descriptions of personal letters—her voice is not heard. In fact, none of her personal letters has been kept. Aside from points in the novel where Daisy is the first-person narrator, her voice is absent, although it can be argued that Daisy’s voice comes through in the third-person narration. In the section of the novel showing photographs of Daisy’s family and friends (a similar feature in most autobiographies and biographies), Daisy’s photograph is not included. The only clues to what she looks like come from others’ descriptions of her at various points in the novel.

Daisy’s tendency to be hidden begins from the time of her birth; her mother had no idea she was pregnant with her. Daisy is then almost immediately taken to Winnipeg by Clarentine Flett and does not see her father for eleven years. The question of the identity of the third-person narrator reemerges: If it is Daisy, why does she choose to imagine such stories for these people? In some ways, even as readers are getting an incomplete and variously biased account of Daisy through the letters and theories of others, readers are also getting an unreliable account of key characters from Daisy’s narration. For example, although Daisy’s mother is obese, the photo included of her shows that she is not morbidly so, as Daisy describes her. The third-person narrator makes note of Daisy’s inadequate description: “Maybe now is the time to tell you that Daisy Goodwill has a little trouble with getting things straight; with the truth, that is.”

The narrator goes on to note that Daisy’s...

(The entire section is 859 words.)