In literary works a symbol can express an idea, clarify meaning, or enlarge literal meaning. Select a novel or play, focusing on one symbol, and analyze how that symbol functions in the work and what it reveals about the characters or themes of the work as a whole. (2009)
In Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, the main character is established from the beginning as a woman similar to that of a stone angel. Hagar Shipley (the novel’s narrator) recounts in the first chapter, “Above the town, on the hill brow, the stone angel used to stand. I wonder if she stands there yet, in memory of her who relinquished her feeble ghost as I gained my stubborn one…” (3) Hagar parallels the image of a rigid stone carving by admitting herself to having gained a stubborn attitude at the placement of the angel and her mother’s death. She goes forward into discussing the angel’s lack of insight or vision, writing, “She was doubly blind, not only stone but unendowed with even the pretense of sight. Whoever carved her had left the eyesballs blank.” (3) and giving the readers a vision of a desensitized angel. The stone angel was placed to stand above the town once Hagar’s mother had passed away, and acts as a replacement for Hagar’s motherly influence. As Hagar was so young when her mother died, the image of this angel replaces the memory of her mother and as she gets older, Hagar’s influence and insight comes from only a blind statue. Due to this, and with the comparison of the stone carving to Hagar’s stubborn attitude in the first quote, it is made plain that the two are nearly one in the same. Like the stone angel, Hagar is rigid and unyielding; stone cold, she refuses to depend on others or show her emotions. Because of this she acts on her pride as a means of refusing any weakness that is within her and Hagar is unable to ever recognize how blind she can be – almost as if unendowed with the pretense of sight, like the angel.
The idea that Hagar Shipley chooses the stone angel to represent what she believes is most similar to her speaks volumes. Angels are most commonly revered by others as holy creatures with an inherent need to guide and protect. In short, they are almost portrayed as superior to humans due to their intermediary purpose – by choosing an angel to represent herself exemplifies how Hagar feels superior to others. Due to this superiority, she does not often think about other’s feelings and only cares about what happens to herself. She is blind to the fact that her need to act independent and prideful is only hurting others at the cost of protecting herself. In this blindness, she also does not realize she is hurting herself through her own mindset: the most prominent example being when Hagar runs away to avoid being put into a home for the elderly. In the moment she decides to leave unattended, her pride and need to be independent results in dire consequences as opposed to protection. Hagar ends up alone and starving in the wilderness, and it is because of her rigid, inflexible mindset.
Near the end of the book, readers are told a story of the stone angel Hagar once compared herself to. When Hagar visits the Manawaka cemetery for what would be her final time, she explains, “The angel was still standing there, but winters or lack of care had altered her. The earth had heaved with frost around her, and she stood askew and tilted. Her mouth was white. We didn’t touch her. We only looked. Someday, she’ll topple entirely, and no one will bother to set her upright again.” (273) By having established Hagar’s connection with the angel at the beginning of the novel, readers were set up to compare Hagar at any mention of the angel. Therefore, Margaret Laurence deliberately writes this imagery as it reflects Hagar Shipley. The winters and lack of care for the angel described by Hagar represents how the hardships of her mother’s death and relationship with her father altered her. Ever since her mother died, Hagar did not receive proper care and in turn, never learned to care for herself in a healthy way. Consequently this led to the actions Hagar would make throughout her life and would bring her to her fall. The line “she’ll topple entirely, and no one will bother to set her upright again” foreshadows what will happen to Hagar due to her behaviour in life and with others. Readers are shown that Hagar will reach a sudden end and no one will be able to fix her, much similarly to the stone angel she believed herself to be like.