Pride & The Failure to Grieve

“It was pride that changed angels to devils; it is humility that makes men as angels”
-Saint  Augustine

The Necessity of Pain

The most important themes in literature are sometimes developed in scenes in which a death or deaths take place – show how a specific death scene helps to illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.  (AP Lit response- 2004)

In anticipation of pain, our physiological response is to become as rigid as possible in hopes of protecting vital organs; in a similar manner, when protecting our reputation, in anticipation of emotional pain, some become cold and unfeeling – like stone. Despite our best efforts, however, some emotions demand to be felt. Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel develops such a thought as the story of Hagar Currie-Shipley growing into her elderhood unfolds. Hagar’s immense pride – as a result, in great part, to John’s death – plays a pivotal role in the exploration of the interplay between pride and failure to grieve. Through Hagar, she is able to reveal an individual who fails to allow themself to fully experience the pain of loss is likely to allow pride to lead them in hopes of coping; as a result, said individual ruins every relationship they have. Eventually, however, there is no hope for redemption.

 

After leading a life using the same toxic coping habits, those habits begin to present themselves as the only source of solace in hardship. When faced with an especially traumatizing time, however, said habits can grow all-consuming; the same is true for Hagar. After John’s death, Hagar felt the need to uphold a strong persona – never allowing herself to cry. She went through the motions of mourning as those around her would have expected but there was a sad reality to be faced when “ [Hagar] found [her] tears had been locked away too long and wouldn’t come… at [her] biding” (243). John’s death gave Hagar reason to allow her pride to consume her completely: a means of protecting herself. In reality, it marked the climax of her descent into an unfeeling, relentless, prideful woman – the stone angel. Hagar’s failure to grieve her son exemplifies the thought that a prideful individual will revert to old habits in order to manage newly introduced trauma instead of addressing the suffering at hand. Hagar’s determination to be led by her pride allowed her to develop a passive disposition to the relationships she once had. She dissociated from them as if they never had any import or benefit to her. When Lottie Simmons, mother of Arlene – who died as a result of the same car accident as John, is in the midst of grieving, Hagar sees it as a chance to back out. Instead of seeking solace in a fellow grieving mother Hagar thinks, “we had nothing to say to one another” and excuses herself to start a new life (243). She flees Manawaka for California and continues to distract herself from her reality: “[Hagar] had a son… and lost him” (234). Though starting anew can be a necessity whilst coming to terms with extreme amounts of pain, fleeing in avoidance of grief proves destructive to once flourishing relationships. Hagar’s avoidance of grief supports the idea that when using pride as a method of enduring immense pain, one is likely to prioritize their needs above all else – equipping them with the capacity to relentlessly abandon the life they once had in favour of a fresh start.

 

The ability to prioritize one’s self is arguably a manner of self-defence. Hagar’s allowance of the stone angel to become her persona as a result of John’s death was no different. The issue, however, arose as pride became the only way of life she could manage; as a result, her relationships suffered from their ill-maintenance. Laurence makes Hagar’s prideful nature very clear to readers from the onset as Marvin and Doris – her son and daughter-in-law – attempt to encourage her to sell her home; despite Hagar’s desire to “never be a burden” on their lives, her pride persists to get in the way of her reason (37). Further, she grows emotionally abusive. She disregards their needs and she lashes out at them saying, “You’ll never sell this house, Marvin. It’s my house. It’s my house, Doris. Mine.”: in the likeness of a child, her pride gives way to anger (35). John’s death continues to impact Hagar’s life decades later. Laurence, through Hagar’s selfish pride, makes it clear that unattended grief leads way to destructive pride – marring the few relationships one has left. Doris, in her futile attempts to soften Hagar’s heart, turns to Mr. Troy. Having the opposite impact, Hagar’s pride is further revealed. After they have a brief conversation wherein Hagar is her usual disagreeable self, Doris is disappointed to hear Hagar refer to him as a “rather stupid man” (55). Rather than attempting to focus on the things he said to her, Hagar points out that she feels “his teeth are quite bad” and continues to complain about selling her home (55). Hagar’s likeness to the stone angel disallows her from accommodating Doris; in spite of the magnitude of pain – emotional and physical – she endures, Hagar consistently puts herself first. An individual lead solely by pride for great lengths of time leaves those around them vulnerable to abuse as a result of their apathetic behaviour: perpetuating their isolation further. The stone angel persona persists and, consequently, so does Hagar’s loneliness.

 

Ultimately, despite our best efforts, some pain demands to be felt and will resurface its self without our consent. Hagar, unintentionally, addresses the pain of John’s death and she is finally able to cry and mourn the loss of her son. For a moment, her pride subsides and she is allowed to be a fragile, terrified woman. After a lengthy, drunken conversation with Murray Lees, Hagar begins to think of the night John died. For the first time since it happened (as far as readers know), she reminisces on that night. For the first time since it happened, she is able to cry. Her thought, “I’m crying now, I think,” reveals after decades of emotion stifled by pride, Hagar is uncertain of her tears (245). Laurence, at this moment, is able to develop the notion that, guarded by their pride, an individual may develop a false sense of security from their emotions; when revealed, however, said emotions may prove surprising and all the more overwhelming. Sadly, Hagar’s facade of the stone angel is cracked but never crumbles. She has spent so much of her life living behind the protection of pride that she does not know how to live without it. In her last few moments, Hagar is faced with the reality that, despite her desire for redemption, her pride will get the better of her. As Doris attempts to help make her comfortable by getting her water, Hagar cannot help but berate her saying, “‘You’re so slow-’… ‘Can’t you even-” (308). That being said, it is evident some progress has been made as Hagar thinks, “I only defeat myself by not accepting her… but I can’t help it” (308). Her self-awareness comes too late, however, as she cannot overcome the nature she has been developing for several decades. When one develops a toxic coping mechanism for an extended period of time any attempts to overcome their nature is likely to prove futile when this realization comes in one’s elderhood. Laurence makes it painfully clear that, at some point, it will be too late.

 

Humans are creatures of habit. After protecting ourselves in the same manner for any great period of time, eventually, a habit is bound to be formed. In Margaret Laurence’s coming-of-age novel The Stone Angel, the story of Hagar’s mismanagement of grief reveals the destructive nature of habitual pride in one’s relationships. Laurence explores the necessity of pain by writing a completely antithetical character. When we fail to mourn in the appropriate season, avoidance techniques are sure to develop into habits; said habits, most frequently toxic, isolate us from loved ones by damaging relationships beyond repair.  


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6 thoughts on “Pride & The Failure to Grieve

  1. Dear Ibukun,

    You are a gifted writer. Truly. Your ideas always amaze (or challenge) me and this one is no different! The concept of pain and pride was one I had never considered; thus, I received a lot of insight from reading your piece and I saw “The Stone Angel” in a different way! Like the saying “Hurt people are the ones who hurt people” goes, my eyes were opened and I viewed Hagar differently – instead of someone to be disliked and disgusted by, Hagar became someone to be pitied and protected. She is, after all, human. Beautifully human, even.

    Pain being a necessary thing is an interesting thought, and you explained it effectively and beautifully. By starting with a chilling prospect – “…in anticipation of emotional pain, some become cold and unfeeling – like stone” – you gave your readers a powerful idea that stayed with them even after the very last word. Your diction is noteworthy, and by using words like “toxic”, “trauma”, and “abusive”, you remind readers of the gravity in “The Stone Angel” that we sometimes overlook, lending an atmosphere of hopelessness to your piece that reflects Laurence’s own work faithfully. In general, your ideas are eloquently expressed and this makes your work such a treat to read. I think it also interesting to note that in calling Laurence’s novel a coming-of-age story, you highlight the importance of one’s formation and emphasize Hagar’s maturity into hard-heartedness as she grows in age, ultimately never breaking free from pride’s chains that held her in her youth. Amazing work!

    For improvement, I would suggest adding onto the matter in your body paragraphs as they seem to be rather heavy on “The Stone Angel” without touching too much on its significance in light of the human condition. I would also watch for some grammar errors (e.g. “When Lottie Simmons, mother of Arlene – who died as a result of the same car accident as John, is in the midst of grieving…” – you should use another dash instead of a comma). Other than that, however, there was nothing too major that seemed to glare out!

    All in all, Ibukun, I was greatly amazed by your post! Pain being a necessary part of life is such a haunting prospect, but one that is comforting as well – it gives meaning to life’s troubles. And if there is any truth to what St. Augustine says, then I hope that in pursuing virtue (humility being among them), it may help us attain the happiness of the angels – not one of stone, but of eternal glory. If only Hagar knew how to do the same.

    Ever yours,
    Jieo

    1. Dearest Jieo,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog – much appreciated. Further, thank you for writing such a well articulated, thorough response! I’m glad you were able to find some insights in my work and found it enjoyable :). Same as Shyla, I refer to your essays for assistance when I’m stuck on mine so it really means a lot that you appreciated my work.

      For improvements, I’ll really have to work on my matter; it seems I’m getting a tad caught up in the characters. I’ll be sure to do another read through for GUMPS also.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. So glad you had fun.

      Hugs,
      Ibukun

  2. Dear Ibukun,

    This was a great take on the prompt – I especially loved the title as I felt that, knowing Hagar, it encompassed the many themes and conditions that “The Stone Angel” presents.

    In terms of your writing, you have such a strong voice. I admire how you are always conscious of the sentence structure and variety within your writing – it not only is enjoyable for readers, but also demonstrates your high understanding of the basics of syntax, and how you can use it to create meaning and emphasis within your writing. I liked how you summed up Hagar’s life, and her actions accordingly as “habits,” as in “habitual pride” – I had never thought of pride as a habit before, more as a trait, though the directness in stating that it was a habit brought about a deeper meaning and level of comprehension relating to Hagar’s pride that I had never realized before. It is because of these small nuances in your writing and ideas that I truly do find pleasure and learning in your blogs.

    Regarding improvement, I feel that this blog was well written – I was not able to see any major GUMPS, and I felt that it was cohesive. I would offer that you more clearly weave in your theme statement within your body paragraphs – the intro and conclusion did a good job of stating your theme, and I feel that you did a good job showing the evolution of your theme in your initially then finally, but I feel like your “matters” could have been more general and all-encompassing relating to your theme (I could have just missed it if you were doing this though).

    Thanks for the insight,

    – Shyla

    1. Dearest Shyla,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. Ehehe, I’m glad you liked the title; I really do spend far too much time on them. Jokes aside, I always find it a joy to read your work and I am truly honoured that you found some insight in mine. Seeing as I refer to your essays when attempting to edit mine, this really means a lot.

      About improving, I will certainly keep that in mind for future pieces. I too felt, upon reflection, the matter of this blog was greatly lacking and I’ll do better in my future endeavours! Specifically, with keeping them general – great tip.

      Thanks again for reading and leaving such a lovely comment. I am touched.

      Hugs,
      Ibukun

  3. My dearest Ibukun,

    I’m so grateful to your and your lovely brain.

    You have a powerful voice, one that doesn’t waver or try to apologize for it’s ideas. I find this in your speaking voice as well. There is also this professional quality to this piece. Everything is sighted properly, and the GUMPS are flawless. It read so smoothly, and it was very understandable. This essay also brings up unique points that I haven’t seen before, such as the concept of bracing before pain and becoming stone in the wake of death. You put concepts we can roughly picture into tangible words we can fully grasp. A final point, your mean is so strong, and served as an educational example for me.

    To work on… I know this essay falls under a different category than most, as it is a blog post… but I would have liked to see more Matter. I would have loved to see your voice weigh in on the way death affects humanity as an whole. Describe the stone nature of grieving and mourning, or how Hagar does not reflect the whole in her method of grief.

    Again, you are an amazing writer, and a massive inspiration. I am so grateful to get to pick your brain this semester.

    Love,

    Claire.P

    1. Dearest Claire Bo-bear,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog; I truly am touched. I’m so glad you were able to enjoy my voice (doesn’t that ever sound strange) and find some ~unique~ concepts. I am happy that I may serve as an example at this moment but I, along with many of the lovelies in our class, certainly have a thing or two to learn from you. <3

      Regarding my matter, I will be sure to keep that in mind for my future criticals. I really liked your suggestion about approaching the matter as Hagar being the antithesis of grief – causing even more problems.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting; I too look forward to picking your brain.

      Hugs,
      Ibukun

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