Hi all, let me begin my saying that is a critical essay which needs a lot more work on!! Any feedback/suggestions are much appreciated!!!
A symbol is an object, action, or event that represents something that creates a range of associations beyond itself. In literary works a symbol can express an idea clarify meaning, or enlarge literal meaning. Select a novel or play and, focusing on one symbol, write an essay analyzing how that symbol functions in the work and what it reveals about the characters or themes of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.
Humans all have a threshold level of pride in which they pleasure and delight themselves by acknowledging one another for their worth and value. But when this pride becomes excessive, it begins to override the natural level of acceptance for one’s self and forces one to make decisions that are selfish and harmful to themselves and others. As these individuals are in the pursuit of preserving pride, it unknowingly destroys their capability to withstand against the trials of life and restricts human connections. Unfortunately, these individuals realize to late the destruction they have caused, and have no opportunities to redeem themselves from their past mistakes and failures. In the novel, The Stone Angel, the author, Margaret Laurence displays an illustration of the effects of pride as endured by the main character, Hagar Shipley. Laurence beautifully weaves in the symbol of a stone angel which progressively shows the internal and external changes experienced by Hagar in each stage of her life. As the story of The Stone Angel unravels, Margret Laurence uses the stone angel as a symbol to communicate how excessive pride upheld by an individual can cause one to make extreme behavioural decisions and choices that detaches them from connections and feelings. By doing so, these individuals progressively deteriorate, both physically and mentally, and they are incapable of attaining redemption from their mistakes.
The stone angel is described with its external, rather stunning details – marble white, beautiful, tall. Yet, in The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence uses the stone angel as a symbolic representation of an hardened and prided heart that is possessed by the main character – Hagar Shipley. The Stone Angel placed in the Currie burial sight is introduced almost immediately in the novel, “my mother’s angel that my father bought in pride to mark her bones and proclaim his dynasty…Summer and winter she viewed the town with sightless eyes. She was doubly blind, not only stone but endowed with even a pretense of sight. Whoever carved her had left the eyeballs blank. It seemed strange to me that she should stand above the town, harking us all to heaven without knowing who we were at all… She was not the only angel in the Manawaka cemetery, but she was the first, the largest and certainly the costliest.” (pg. 1-2) Hagar was the daughter of a rich businessman that had moved from Scotland on his own. He set up a great and successful life deeming him to be one of the richest man in the county of Manawaka. Everyone in their society knew the Currie family and acknowledged them as respectful and honored citizens of Manawaka. When Hagar was born, Hagar’s mother died, therefore, Hagar has no recollections or memories of her mother except for the marble white angel that stood on her grave. Hagar’s father took pride in the angel as it not only outstood the rest but also proclaimed his line of wealthy lineage and family title. The stone angel stands out to be tall, beautiful, and docketed with riches, it’s sole presence radiating power and prestige. The main character Hagar is the stone angel and this is presented through the various attributes and features of the stone angel itself. The major character flaw of Hagar is her pride – much of it is an inherited possession from her father. Hagar is born into a rich family; therefore, by naturally instinct she is seen to be superior to others of her town – particularly her age. As young Hagar grew up with the life structure of wealth, she became accustomed to behave and represent herself as a wealthy man’s daughter. This is clearly demonstrated in her earlier life as the author mentions that Lottie, Hagar’s childhood friend, was not invited to her house parties as she was not considered to be of proper social hierarchy. In regards to the stone angel, Hagar is the pure white marble that radiates pride which is accompanied by her customs of what she considers to be appropriate. The structure of a stone angel draws out the interior and exterior structure of Hagar; portraying significance of the angelic presence yet the rigid feel of the stone. Hagar grew up to be an individual striving to attain the ‘perfect image’, but often times this left her rigid and cold in the inside. By trying to uphold her pride, Hagar pushes away emotions or connections; slowly transfiguring into stone – metaphorically speaking. Stone is the builders key weapon; it holds strong, it is difficult to break, and it holds the form of the structure. Over the years, as Hagar becomes consumed by pride, she becomes a stone structure immune to the any external damages of pain, conflict, or loneliness. Furthermore, Laurence describes the angel to be doubly blind without even a pretense of sight which emphasizes the emotional blindness experienced by Hagar. The common saying which states that eyes are the windows to the heart stands to be true as Hagar remains emotionless in the eyes of the others blocking of her connection to others and portraying her to be a cold hearted individual. It is particularly interesting that the author mentions that the creator had carved the stone angel eyes blank which correlates to Hagar’s upbringing and the traits that were passed down to her from her father. Laurence establishes a sense of superiority to the angel as it stands higher than all the rest and harks them all into heaven without knowing who they were at all. Similarly, although Hagar holds no position or superiority over others, she has always considered herself better than all the females of the society – at least she attempts to be. Hagar holds judgement over other individuals, even before truly knowing their personality.
As Hagar’s pride consumes every aspect of her life, she becomes more withdrawn and resilient to the nature of life and human connection. It is not the beauty or prestige of the stone angel that we see in Hagar’s life, rather the rigid, jagged stones formed by the result of harming pride. Laurence illustrates the second stage of development, or rather destruction, of Hagar with the stone angel, “The marble angel lay toppled over on her face, among the peonies, and the black ants scurried through the white stone ringlets of her hair… “We’ll have to set her up,” I said. “We can’t leave it like this.” (pg.193) After hearing about Bram’s sickness, Hagar returns to Manawaka, her hometown she had deserted in order to find a ‘better life’. During her stay there she is persistent on visiting the cemetery to make sure that the Currie plot had been cared for. Upon visiting the grave, to her great dismay and horror, the stone angel lays toppled to the ground and covered by overgrown wildflowers and unmaintained peonies. Formerly, Laurence had introduced an angel endowed in beauty and prestige which is quite a contrast from what is portrayed now. The image of the fallen angel alludes to the deterioration of Hagar’s internal complexion as she suffers from the consequences of pride, which now consumes her life. The fallen angel is also used as a foreshadowing to the upcoming events in the novel that altered Hagar’s sense of feeling and numbed her completely. The fall of the angel show’s its inability to stand watch over the one’s whom they are in charge. Regarding Hagar, she is unable to protect or provide care at the death of Bram and during the sudden death of John. This is later reinforced in the novel, “oh, my two, my dead. Dead by your hands or by mine?”(pg.318). Immediately after witnessing the current state of the angel, Hagar fervently urges John to put the stone angel back to its upright position. Despite the falls and destruction of self, Hagar still continues to hold tight to her pride and she will not let others witness her weakness or pain, “But I shoved her arms away. I straightened my spine, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, to stand straight then. I wouldn’t cry in front of strangers, whatever it cost me.” (pg.264). The angel’s face was roughed with make-up, the white-marble no longer shone in beauty, neither did it stand for its initial intentions of marking pride and dynasty. These observations are directly parallel to the social fall of Hagar from her former status of wealth and honor, to the wife of the poorest man in town. Hagar vigorously wipes way at the the makeup and attempts to retain the former beauty of the angel. Hagar refuses to acknowledge herself as one who holds such little status and continues to perceive herself better than most woman. By the use of a fallen angel, Laurence illustrates the destruction and deterioration that is progressively consuming Hagar. Externally, the angel was put back together; however, it’s former structure, foundation, and internal cracks can never be mended, resulting in a much weaker angel.
Overcome with age and sickness Hagar quickly approaches her death and once again Laurence brings back the stone angel for a final glimpse. Disappointingly, Hagar fails to redeem herself from the actions of pride, rather surrenders in defeat and beings to fall – never to get back up. The stone angel is brought attention in the last chapter of the book, “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.” ( pg.332) Hagar visits the cemetery one last time with Marvin and gazes up at the angel which had been such a big part of her life. As she views this monument, she takes in the fragile, distorted look it now portrays and admittedly confesses that someday soon it will tople completely and this time, there won’t be anyone to put it back together. The physical structure of the angel was deteriorating, contributing to the idea that Hagar herself was suffering from physical illnesses and sicknesses. Yet again, Laurence uses the stone angel to foreshadow death, this time it is solely focused on the demise of the main character. Just as the angel will crumble, Hagar will fall – all alone and weak. Contradicting her past ways of denying the reality of situations, Hagar acknowledges her fate and understands that her time has almost come to an end. An image of a fallen angel is never associated with success or achievement, rather the fall from said things. Although Hagar had come to accept the mistakes and failures of her decisions, Hagar never attains complete redemption from the past and crumbles with the knowledge of her rigid, prided life.
In Margaret Laurence’s novel, The Stone Angel, pride is illuminated as the determinantal factor that causes the destruction of one’s self. By the usage of symbols, Laurence clarifies how obsessive pride causes on to make selfish and regretful decisions that ultimate leads to the deterioration of self. Laurence sculpts and molds the stone angel to trace the character development of Hagar. Just as the stone angel rises, glorifies, falls, reconstructs, weakens, and topples, so does Hagar as demonstrated through the life she endured.