Death In Stone Angel Essay, Research Paper
At one time in life, every individual is faced with the horrible fact of death. Death is a subject that everyone fears because they associate death with their end and not a new beginning. In The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence, Hagar is no different. When she faces the reality of the implications of growing old she is faced with a journey, not one of her choice but one of destiny. Through her journey Hagar goes through the five different stages leading up towards death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. The novel demonstrates each of Hagar’s steps along the difficult journey of death which is frightening and intimidating but also inevitable.
When Hagar is first faced with the truth that she is getting old and not going to be around much longer, her first reaction is one of denial. Hagar cannot believe that this is happening to her. In her mind she more or less associates death as a horrible nightmare of which she will eventually wake up and everything will be a dream and life will return back to normal. Hagar’s denial can be seen when she describes herself: “Because I cannot remember doing it nor yet recall definitely not doing it…I become flustered” (Laurence, 30). Hagar’s greatest difficulty is that her memory is failing her and this infuriates her more than anything else but it also allows her to create an illusion that everything will be fine. Hagar makes herself believe that this cannot be happening:
“Then, terribly, I perceive the tears, my own they must be although they have sprung so unbidden I feel they are like the incontinent wetness of the infirm. Trickling, they taunt down my face. I dismiss them, blaspheme against them – let them be gone. But I have spoken and they are still there” (Laurence, 31).
Hagar rejects everything that would shatter her illusion that she has created:
“Doris believes that age increases natural piety, like a kind of insurance policy falling due. I couldn’t explain. Who would understand, even if I strained to speak? I am past ninety and this figure seems somehow arbitrary and impossible,…” (Laurence, 38).
When Hagar finally gets through her stage of denial that she has live in she becomes angry with herself and the world around her. It frustrates Hagar that she can no longer do what she is accustomed to doing rather she often has to seek the aid of others: “How it irks me to have to take her hand, allow her to pull my dress over my head, undo my corsets and strip them off me, and have her see my blue-veined swollen flesh…” (Laurence, 77). Hagar gets angry also when she cannot control her emotions: “Now I perceive, too late, how laden with self-pity my voice sounds, and how filled with reproach” (Laurence, 37). Hagar cannot control her mind either and her illusion is slowly shattering: “Oh, but that was not what I meant to say at all. How is it my mouth speaks by itself, the words flowing from somewhere, some half-hidden hurt?” (Laurence, 68). Hagar is angry at her body that she can no longer do simple tasks for herself but that she is dependent on others: “I heard the footsteps on the carpeted stair. They sound muted and velvety, as though it were a smotherer…When the intruder opens the door, I won’t be able to rise from my chair…” (Laurence, 72). Hagar feels incompetent and useless which infuriates and frustrates her at the same time.
Hagar goes through a short period of bargaining where she wonders what if. Even though Hagar attempts to bargain against the inevitable there is always a constant reminder:
“…I’m stuck here like an overturned ladybug…I hurt all over, but the worst is that I’m helpless.
I grow enraged…Perhaps the anger gives me strength… Proud as Napoleon or Lucifer, I stand and survey the wasteland I’ve conquered. My bowels knot,…That’s the indignity of it” (Laurence, 191).
Since Hagar does not accept the belief in God, she bargains with destiny and places the fault on others, everybody but herself: “That Doctor Tappen – I never thought much of him” (Laurence, 263). She questions everybody’s credibility to maintain her illusion that is now hanging by a flimsy thread.
When Hagar realizes she can’t control or stop the process of old age and death, she becomes depressed and distant.
“Silverthreads…I am barely aware of the words that issue form my mouth. I am overcome with fear, the feeling one has when the ether mask goes on, when the mind cries out to the limbs, “flail against the thing,” but the limbs are already touched with lethargy, bound and lost” (Laurence, 95).
Hagar also realizes that she cannot even control her future because she has no money: “Marvin looks after my money. The account’s in his name now. I had forgotten. I haven’t a nickel” (Laurence, 139). Hagar is depressed because she has no self-control, no control over her body, destiny or her future. Her fate is already pre-determined for her and she cannot do a thing about it. Hagar is depressed about the idea about going to a nursing home so she runs away but she soon learns that she cannot escape her problems by running away because they will always be there when she returns. Hagar begins to regret what she has done in the past: “I’m sorry no that I told Father. But it made me wild-…” (Laurence, 276). Towards the end, Hagar begins to give herself to others because she cannot stand leaving them behind: “Send her this, Doris, will you? It was my mother’s sapphire. I’d like Tina to have it” (Laurence, 279).
Finally, towards the end of the novel, Hagar reaches the end or her journey and accepts her fate instead of trying to change it. Hagar is still scared but she realizes that she cannot battle or change God’s plan:
“The light is on beyond that open door. If I reach it, someone will speak. Will the voice be the one I have been listening for? What keeps him? He could surely say something. It wouldn’t hurt, just say a word. Hagar. He was the only one who ever called me by my name” (Laurence, 284-285).
Hagar also confronts her past and accepts the fact that she cannot change what happened but only overcome it:
“I must always, always have wanted that – simply to rejoice. How is it I never could? I know, I know… Every good joy I might have held… all were forced to a standstill by some brake of proper appearances – oh, proper to whom? When did I ever speak the heart’s truth?” (Laurence, 292).
I lie here and try to recall something truly free that I’ve done in ninety years. I can think of only two acts that might be so, both recent. One was a joke…The other was a lie” (Laurence, 307).
Even though Hagar accepts her journey towards death she is determined to do it alone. The reader never finds out if she does it for others or simply for her own satisfaction. “I’ve reached the bathroom and gained the shiny steel grail…And now I wonder if I’ve done it for her or for myself” (Laurence, 301). Hagar finally succeeds in accepting reality and leaving the world peacefully under her own terms: “I wrest from her the glass, full of water to be had for the taking. I hold it in my hands…And then -” (Laurence, 308).
The novel is an unforgettable tale about a proud and courageous woman, Hagar, who is determined to leave the world dependent on no one. Hagar does not want anyone to feel pity for her, mourn her or worry about her journey. Hagar accomplishes her goal, even though in the process she has to shatter her illusion and accept the harsh facts about life and reality. In the final scene, the reader obtains the message that Hagar has reached her independence when she holds the glass of water. As a result she can leave the world peacefully knowing that in the end she succeeded in freeing herself of any help. Hagar bravely survived her last moments with her heart and the reward of satisfaction. The reader, with the help of the author, can relate to Hagar’s struggle through her journey, sympathising with her, feeling her pain and keeping a part of her with them.