A Puppet of One’s Past

In many works of literature, past events can affect, positively or negatively, the present activities, attitudes, or values of a character. Choose a novel or play in which a character must contend with some aspect of the past, either personal or societal. Then write an essay in which you show how the character’s relationship to the past contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. (2007)



Often, people are merely puppets of their past. Many are defined to a great extent by their past; it is what shapes and defines who people become. An individual’s past life creates a perspective that becomes a part of their identity. In many cases, however, this past perspective is seen in a negative light as it can control an individual. The significance of the past and its long-term effects are clearly shown in the character of Hagar from The Stone Angel. The values and traits that Hagar adopts as a child continues to affect her present life and is the basis of her pride. Initially, Hagar’s lack of dependence on others is what made her feel stronger and more capable; this trait is precisely what pushes her to isolate others in her life. Even until the end she is unwilling to accept her state of vulnerability because of an unchanged perspective. It is a major aspect of Hagar’s identity in that she is reliant upon this past perspective when taking actions. Through Hagar, Margaret Laurence exemplifies that an individual’s past perspective inevitably controls the actions that they take in the present because it becomes a dominating aspect of his/her identity.


My past is mine to control – mine to reject


The formation of perspective often occurs early in an individual’s childhood and will often have a permanency that will not fade away. Hagar’s early childhood shows to the reader the circumstances which had all contributed to developing Hagar’s mindset. The apparent death of her mother took away the role model that she should have had in her life; her father’s arrogance made it difficult to create connections; Hagar’s two brothers were shown to exhibit traits of her own “meek” mother. It can be interpreted that Hagar’s lack of dependence on others made her feel stronger and more capable which, therefore, created her prideful mindset. A pride that influenced all her future decisions because it was a way that Hagar continuously looked at the world – blinded with delusion.  She, at such an early age, was required to be reliant only on her own abilities seen through when her father told her that to gain success “it was up to her, nobody else”. Then years later, after having two sons, Hagar finds herself saying the “same words to them”. Her hypocrisy illuminates once again the reality of this past influence and the lack of control that she has over it. Hagar’s rigid and uncompromising identity can be said to be comprised of many values and beliefs that she had inherited from her past. Therefore, such an individual’s past influences their future; however, if left unconsidered, this past influence can unknowingly become the basis for all actions that an individual takes.


If only I could forget the past


Gradually, it can be seen that Hagar’s past prideful mindset remains as a shadow looming over her present life. As Hagar ages, she becomes reliant upon others for help but continues to desire and long for the independence that she once had growing up. Her mindset has a permanency which still is influencing the decisions that she makes. This is evident in the following quote when Hagar proudly states, “They’re greatly mistaken if they think I’ll bend meekly and never raise a finger. I’ve taken matters into my own hands before, and can again, if need be”(Laurence 139). Hagar becomes aware of Doris and Marvin planning to send her to a nursing home and is unwilling to accept it.  This brings back the word “meek” that Hagar had previously used to describe her mother illustrating how her past beliefs and way of thinking has not changed. Later, it is seen that she runs away from home to get the freedom that she desires and her past mindset is what influenced her into taking the action that she did. There was no way that Hagar was going to accept being dependent upon others because of her pride. By stating that she can take matters into her own hands like she did before, Hagar recalls the independence she had as a child and her desire to be given it once again. This allows for an individual to recollect the perspective that they had held in the past and adopt it once again. An individual’s past is the one part of their identity that will remain unchanged and persist despite the odds making it increasingly dangerous for said individual.


Now I no longer feel in control


Hagar is unable to gain back this independence, but the perspective of her past continues to linger even in her final moments. An individual’s past has a type of reluctance which results in a major component of an individual’s identity being derived from there. All the actions that Hagar has taken thus far have been derived from her past; Hagar’s identity in the present is merely her past being rearranged. The rigidity that she adopts from her past perspective is shown once again through how she is unwilling to allow Doris to help her drink the water which is described as follows: “I only defeat myself by not accepting her… But I can’t help it – it’s my nature”(Laurence 308). This refusal to accept reality results in her ultimate demise. By using the word “nature”, it can be interpreted that Hagar’s past perspective  used when making decisions is no longer in her control and has, therefore, become a major aspect of her identity. Furthermore, her choice of death over having to part with her past emphasizes the significance that one’s past can have in their life. Hagar is seen as unable to grow or develop her identity because her past perspective is not willing to adapt to the circumstances that she is placed under. The permanency of this perspective is further seen through the symbolism of the stone angel. Despite the progression of time, the stone angel is “still standing there” which continues to emphasize how the influence from Hagar’s past will never fade away because it has become a part of her – forever and always. Such an individual who is controlled by their past will inevitably be confronted by reality and suffer the consequences of this rigidity.


Maybe I never truly was in control – my past was


The perspective that is created in an individual’s past will control the actions that they take in the present because it has become an integral part of his/her identity. Hagar’s childhood perspective remains unchanged throughout the novel and makes it almost impossible for her to take any actions that go against it. Her initial lack of dependence on others makes her feel more capable and creates a prideful mindset that sticks with her until her eventual demise. Hagar becomes a slave to her past and is unknowingly reliant upon it to give her a sense of identity. Hagar’s identity is what she desires to control; however, she doesn’t realize that it is no longer her choice when taking decisions. She is seen to villanize her past because of how powerful an influence it has on her. Despite the struggles that she experiences, Hagar’s perspective has a permanency that is seen to last through the entirety of the novel. Therefore, it can be said that the past is the puppet master of an individual’s life – inevitably determining one’s identity.


Too late now.



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2 thoughts on “A Puppet of One’s Past

  1. Dear Abhay,

    First of all, I must say that ever since you came into the AP classroom, I’ve always been awed by your ideas and the amazing clarity with which you can express them! Your eloquence is something even I aspire towards and it seems to have permeated not just your speech, but your writing as well! Amazing work!

    I truly enjoyed the clarity of this piece – you created a perfect balance between overly simple wording and excessive wordiness. Your ideas were easy to comprehend, but laced with a touch of cleverness that gives your readers something to think about. Lines like “Hagar’s identity in the present is merely her past being rearranged” were among the ones that I found very thought-provoking and, if I was being honest, rather mind-blowing! Like any great writer, you allowed me to think about this piece in a totally different way, and opened my eyes to possibilities about the text of which I was previously unaware! I also enjoyed the little “poetic lines” that you inserted between the paragraphs – they allowed me to grasp the ideas of your essay quickly and quite powerfully, might I add, especially when it culminated in “Too late now”, which really sums up Margaret Laurence’s brilliant piece, doesn’t it?

    In regards to improvement, the biggest thing I would suggest would be to perhaps expand the matter in your body paragraphs – not only will this allow your readers to see how the things we learn in the novel can be applied in their own lives (which really should be the purpose of reading) but also get more of your brilliant writing! On a more minor note, I would also avoid contractions (e.g. “she does not realize” instead of “she doesn’t realize”, etc.), especially in critical essays, as well as sentence fragments (e.g. “A pride that influenced all her future decisions…”). These aren’t prevalent, however, and can be easily fixed!

    All in all, I really enjoyed reading your piece! Your fluency never ceases to amaze me and I cannot wait to see what your future works may bring! And if we truly are the puppets of our past, I do hope that this brilliant work is but a foretaste of the amazing writer you are quickly becoming.

    Ever yours,

    1. Dear Jieo,

      Thank you so much for commenting on my post as it means a lot to me! Actually your writing is what I have aspired to emulate one day as well. In my writing, one of the things I lack is clarity which usually is because of my improper use of complex language, but I am glad that this piece was different. I used poetry as I thought that it would make my piece flow better. What I appreciate more than the “glows” are the “grows” that you have given me. After looking at several other essays, including yours, I wanted to make mine longer as well, but I couldn’t figure out where to add more. I wanted to add more matter to my essay; however, I got worried that my writing would sound too repetitive because I can’t branch off of a central idea really well. However, if I do find many ideas that connect to one topic then usually my writing loses its focus, so I am really trying to find the balance that exists between the two. I do hope that more practice and emulating off other essays will help me to improve on this aspect of my writing. Also, I will surely remember to keep an eye out for when I use contractions, so thank you for that as well.

      Thank you again!

      By the way, that last line of your comment made my day =)

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