mirror, mirror (polished critical on The Stone Angel)



The role self-perception plays when individuals attempt to determine their own destiny

   Self-perception is a product of identity, yet can only be truly determined when influences of society are considered. For instance, women during times of male privilege were often reduced to defining  their ideas of themselves in accordance to how men/society viewed them. Thus, there are many examples of women choosing a path in relation to what convention dictates is suitable. However, in The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence exemplifies the opposite of this through Hagar Shipley, a stubborn woman raised with a superiority complex, with a self-perception built by privilege and pride. Hagar  disregards the expected roles society enforces on women, such as: the obedient daughter, compassionate wife, and votive mother – all requiring an immense amount of fragility, compassion, and sacrifice, which Hagar dismisses. Utilizing Hagar’s esteemed self-perception and rebellion against expectations to rule her future, Laurence demonstrates the conflict an individual faces when attempting to secure an independent destiny concerned with maintaining a conceited self-perception in a conservative age. One’s self-perception and dreams begin developing in childhood; furthermore, Hagar’s supercilious and motherless upbringing causes her to abandon her feminine self-perception as the only female Currie, to fulfill a destiny of strength and dignity modelled by her controlling father.


     Traditionally, young women were expected to be raised with an attitude of passivity and compliance to the path chosen for them –  due to this reality, many women were unable to develop their own sense of self and desires. Hagar, however, is born into a reputable family, and is raised to adapt a superiority complex against others, as well as an arrogant self-perception. Hagar’s father, Jason Currie, is responsible for this for he is the epitome of hubris and is obsessed with maintaining the prestige of his family. He passes this onto Hagar by instilling within her a “self-made” ideology, making her idolize her father, as well as understand that in order to build oneself up, one must make sacrifices and take advantage of situations. For instance, when her brother, Matt, becomes deathly ill, rather than fulfilling the expectations of her womanhood, Hagar avoids comforting him for it would make her view herself as vulnerable, consequently damaging her desired destiny of autonomy. Laurence conveys this when Dan initially requests Hagar pretend to be their mother for their dying brother, Matt, “But all I could think of was that meek woman I’d never seen, the woman Dan was said to resemble so much and from whom he’d inherited a frailty I could not help but detest…. To play at being her – it was beyond me (Chapter 1, page 3).” Due to this superiority complex now embedded into Hagar’s young conscious, she begins to judge her brothers and even her dead mother who is “meek” compared to her. Despite the pressures of Dan and society, Hagar is unable to perceive herself as anything but respectable lest exhibiting vulnerability cause damage to her self-sufficient future. Her character exemplifies how one will make decisions with the intentions of preserving pride and self- perception, while blocking out people or situations that may challenge this. Through this, Hagar  disregards the emotional boundaries set in place for women, as she strives to be in command of her own destiny by fostering the masculine and prideful self-perception of her father.

    Now an older woman, Hagar is capable to make her own life decisions regarding career and marriage, opposite to what her father may desire of her.  She yearns to become a teacher, but due to her father’s reprimands, Hagar is forced to give it up, essentially giving up her independent perception of herself. Women of this time, no matter how self-reliant or determined in regards to their future, were stripped of any self-sufficiency due to ideas funded by misogyny and the view that women needed to be monitored on a social and morale level. As a way to retaliate, she marries Bram Shipley to satisfy her independent self-perception and redefine herself by separating herself from her father, and the controlling conditions of his expectations. “It’ll be done by me (Chapter 2, page 49).” [said in response to:“There’s not a decent girl in this town would wed without her family’s consent.”] She is unafraid to lose her reputation by marrying Bram because she is confident in her own self perception, believing she will be able to change Bram’s crude mannerisms due to her previous authority over her destiny. In regards to her father’s lack of approval, she claims,“ …father would soften and yield, when he saw[sees] how Brampton Shipley prospered, gentled, learned cravats and grammar (Chapter 2, page 50).” Hagar’s perceives herself as able to change the foundation of her husband when she herself was unable to change for the benefit of her dying brother. This exemplifies the way one will defy convention in order to preserve one’s sense of pride and reputable self-perception, in an effort to pursue their own destiny. Consequently, Hagar is unable to sacrifice her conceited attitude, and damages her relationship with Bram – forcing her to realize the consequences of her spiteful decision to marry him in the first place. When one has derailed from their initial course in life, they will go through any means to repair it so it can reflect their own personal wishes and expectations. Although, when Bram directly dishonors her father, (therefore, dishonouring the source of her self- perception, ) she recoils from him and strives to restore her destiny through ingraining her egotistical self-perceptions in her favourite son, John.

  By making the choice of retaining one’s headstrong self-perception, despite facing judgement, an individual will continue to attempt to attain their honourable destiny by transferring their ideals onto others who they believe will satisfy their pride. After her separation with Bram, Hagar leaves Manawaka with her son, John, in hopes to fulfill her destiny as an independent woman. Hagar now aims to instill in her son the values and pride she adapted as a child and carried throughout her life as a way to preserve her self-perception and the origins of it. She tries to achieve this through gifting a family heirloom, a plaid pin with the Currie emblem on it, for it represents independence, resilience, and prestige. However, since John had a different upbringing than Hagar, due to Bram’s perverse influence on him;  he is indifferent to the symbol. “ ‘ I lost the pin.. I traded it to another guy for a jackknife’ (Chapter 5, page 143). ” Hagar views the Currie pin as a prized heirloom, and the very basis of her self-perception – defining her desire to pursue the greatness her father sought for. Thus, John’s lack of respect for his heritage influences a shameful self-perception in both himself and Hagar, for she realizes the futility in striving to achieve her destiny of transferring her self-pride onto her child the same way it was passed down to her. When an individual loses confidence and power over their destiny and self-perception, they will begin to doubt their choices – despite their efforts to maintain their ideals. As a woman, Hagar not only has to face the loss of her family’s support, but also her connections with her son, for she fails to understand how her arrogant self-perception determined her alienated destiny.


     The course of one’s life and the decisions they make are influenced by the way they perceive themselves; ultimately, shaping their identity and relationships with others. Women are constantly instructed on how they must view themselves, henceforth, they have a limited view on their destiny, since their ideals must line up to those of society. Utilizing Hagar’s esteemed self-perception and rebellion against expectations to rule her future, Laurence demonstrates the conflict an individual faces when attempting to secure an independent destiny concerned with maintaining a conceited self-perception in a conservative age where women’s self-perceptions and futures were to adhere to the conventions of society. With her attempts to conquer the belief that women are incapable of sustaining powerful and prestigious self-perceptions, Hagar makes decisions with the intentions of only benefiting herself and her legacy. Due to this she loses feminine qualities, ultimately making her also lose her father’s respect, her brother’s life, her husband’s love, and her son’s honour. Although, one cannot blame another for their attempts to rise above boundaries placed on their gender, as they strive to fulfill their destiny driven by their proud self-perceptions.

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