The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence


The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is a heart-warming story of a
ninety year old woman who is nearing death and who has very little to look
back on with pride. Her life had been ruled by her concern of outward
appearances and manners. Although she often felt love and happiness, she
refused to show it fearing it may be viewed by others as a weakness. Hagar
inherited this strong pride from her father, Jason Currie, along with other
poor qualities. Throughout her life, Hagar is desperately trying to escape.
First, she tries to escape from her family, mostly her father, but in so
doing she also cuts herself off from her brother, Matt. She also ends up
leaving her husband, Brampton. Secondly, Hagar tries to escape from her
own poor qualities to which she is captive; attempting to fill the
emptiness within her. Finally and futilely, she tries to escape death. All
of these attempts fail dismally. Throughout the narration of the novel many
images are put forth repetitiously to aid the development of Hagar's
character and the main themes. The Stone Angel is a very effective story
due largely to the biblical, water, and flower imagery.

The biblical imagery is very strong and can be found numerous times
throughout the novel. The name of the main character, Hagar, is also the
name of a hand maid in a biblical story. Many parallels are made between
Margaret Laurence's Hagar and the biblical Hagar. The Hagar in the bible
was to conceive a son with the husband of her owner, Sarah, who, herself,
was unable to conceive. Hagar did bear a son but Sarah became very jealous
of Hagar and had her thrown out into the wilderness. Hagar's son was born
and they both returned to the place where Sarah and her husband, Abraham
(Laurence's husband to Hagar was named Brampton to echo Abraham), lived.
Hagar and her son were cast into the wilderness once again when Sarah bore
a son of her own and Hagar's son, Ishmael, mocked Sarah's child. Nearing
death, Hagar and her son were saved by God who provided them with a well of
water. The Hagar in The Stone Angel is very similar to the Hagar in the
bible. Laurence's Hagar became a housekeeper to Bram after she married
him, which is ironic for a woman with her qualities. Hagar realizes this
and sees herself as a bondwoman (this is also how the biblical Hagar is
described); therefore, she feels trapped like a prisoner. Hagar says, "I
was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains
within me," (pg. 261) thus showing Hagar as a captive of her position,
emotions, and her pride. The two Hagars are also very similar in that they
both go into the wilderness. Hagar Shipley goes out into the wilderness
when she leaves her father to marry Bram and live on his farm. The
difference between the two Hagars if that Hagar Shipley is not confronted
by a divine manifestation like the Egyptian Hagar. Hagar's vision and
realization comes when she and her favored son, John, leave home. Hagar
slowly begins to see John's true character. Hagar Shipley wished her son
was like Jacob, a faithful son in the Old Testament; however, she soon
realized that he was not like Jacob. When Hagar returned to Manawaka, the
statue of the stone angel had been pushed over and she requested that her
son, John, fix it. Hagar says, "I wish he could have looked like Jacob
then, wrestling with the angel and besting it, wringing a blessing from it
with his might. But no." (pg. 159). Hagar's second journey into the
wilderness was when she fled to Shadow Point. Here, Hagar realized that her
other son, Marvin, was her Jacob and that she had favored the wrong son.
The Hagar in the Old Testament bore a wild son, Ishmael, but she also
created a faithful son, Jacob (descendent of Isaac). The parallels between
The Stone Angel and the biblical Hagar are so strong that the effectiveness
of Margaret Laurence's work rises dramatically.

The water imagery presented many times in the novel helped to develop
the theme of death. As everyone knows, water is viewed as the center of
life since, without it, life would cease to exist. An example of this is
when the drought occurred in Manawaka. Hagar returned during the drought
to find all of the Shipley's flowers and vegetables dead. "They'd had no
water this year," says Hagar, not yet realizing that she, too, has lived
most of her life in a drought. The water she was deprived of was