– Symbolism Essay, Research Paper
Margaret Laurence?s novel, The Stone Angel is a compelling journey of flashbacks seen through the eyes of Hagar Shipley, a 90 year old woman nearing the end of her life. In the novel, Margaret Laurence, uses the stone angel to effectively symbolize fictional characters.
The term symbolism in its broadest sense means the use of an object to stand for something other than itself. In The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence uses the stone angel to sybmolize the Currie family values and pride and in particular, the pride and cold personality traits of Hagar Shipley. There are three primary areas where the stone angel is used to symbolize characters in the novel. They are: the Currie family pride as a symbol of egoism and materialism, Hagar?s lack of compassion for her family and friends as symbolized by a heart of stone, and Hagar?s blindness to the feelings and needs of the others as symbolized by the blindness of the angel.
The stone angel is symbolic of the Currie family pride and values. The stone angel memorial is purchased and brought from Italy by Jason Currie at great expense and placed at the grave site of his wife, in the Manawaka cemetery. The stone angel is the largest and most expensive memorial in the cemetery. Although the stone angel is intended to be a memorial for Mrs. Currie, it was not really suitable because Hagar describes her as being meek and a feeble ghost. The angel is not intended for Mrs. Currie, but in fact, represents the materialistic and egotistical values that characterizes Jason and later, Hagar. Jason purchases the stone angel in pride and not in grief over the death of this wife: “bought in pride to mark her bones and proclaim his dynasty, as he fancied, forever and a day.” (Laurence 3) Jason?s strong ego is emplasized when, at this death, he leaves money to the town for a memorial park that would continue his family name.
The angel is symbolic of Hagar?s pride. Hagar seems to be madeof stone, like the angel. Hagar?s strong pride does not allow her to express her true emotions for fear that she will appear to be soft and weak. As a child, when Jason punishes her, she is determined not to cry:
I wouldn?t let him see my cry, I was so enraged. He used a
foot ruler, and when I jerked my smarting palms back, he
made me hold them out again. He looked at my dry eyes in
a kind of fury? (9)
It was her pride that keeps her from speaking up and fighting for her brother, Matt when Jason sends her away to college to become more civilized. Although Hagar knows Matt deserves to go more than she does, her pride prevents her from showing her true feelings to Matt:
I wanted to tell Matt I knew he should have been the one to
go east, but I could not speak of it to him? When it came
to saying good-bye to Matt, at first I avoided his eyes but then
I thought- why on earth should I? So I looked at him squarely
and said good-bye so evenly and calmly you?d have thought I
was going over to South Wachakwa or Freehold and would be
back that evening. Later in the train, I cried, thinking of him,
but of course, he never knew that, and I?d have been the last to
tell him. (42)
Hagar is just as hard and cold hearted as the stone angel. Hagar never reveals her feelings, and for this reason, she is not able to develop genuine relationships. Her pride prevents her from showing emotions she feels and also prevents her from dealing with the strong emotions of others:
“She?s everything in the world to me,” Lottie said?”I lost two
before I finally had her? you don?t know -”
And then I did know, and cursed myself for my meanness
before, for thinking myself the only one. (212)
In this quote, Hagar realizes that she has been very unappreciative of Lottie and her
feelings. Hagar recognizes that she is only thinking of herself. When their brother Dan is dying and needs comfort, Matt suggests Hagar wear their mother?s shawl to comfort Dan. Hagar?s pride prevents her from doing this:
But all I could think of was that meek woman I?d never seen,
the woman Dan said to resemble so much and from whom he?d
inherited a frailty I could not help but detest, however much a
part of me wanted to sympathize. To play at being her ? it was
“I can?t, Matt.” I was crying, shaken by torments
he never even suspected, wanting above all else to do the thing
he asked, but unable to do it, unable to bend enough. (25)
Hagar does not show any emotion when she has sex with Bram, her husband. Hagar refuses to admit to her husband that she enjoys having sex with him. She tells the reader that:
It was not so very long after we wed, when first I felt my blood
and vitals rise to meet his. He never knew, I never let him know.
I never spoke aloud, and ? I prided myself upon keeping my
pride intact, like some maidenhead. (81)
Once during a night blizzard, Bram?s horse, Soldier, that he loved dearly, broke out of the barn and ran free. Bram cannot find Soldier and the horse dies during the storm. During the incident, Hagar cannot bring herself to say the tender thing to cheer Bram up or comfort him,
All at once I walked over to him without pausing to ponder
whether I should or not, or what to say? Then, awkwardly,
“I?m sorry about it, Bram. I know you were fond of him.”(87)
Hagar never shares her feelings with her husband. This is one of the reasons why their marriage fails. To make a relationship work, couples need to communicate with each other, and share their innermost feelings. Hagar fails to do this. Later in Hagar?s
life when she moves away from Bram, her favourite son John, was involved in an accident. While in the hospital, John dies and Hagar hides her true feelings from the others:
She put a well-meaning arm around me. “Cry. Let yourself.
It?s the best thing.”
But I shoved her arm 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. (242)
Later, when Hagar arrives home, she realizes that she is not able to show her emotions. Hagar describes herself as being transformed to stone like the stone angel:
I found my tears had been locked too long and wouldn?t come
now at my bidding. The night my son died I was transformed to
stone and never wept at all. (243)
Hagar holds her emotions inside of her so no one else can see how she feels. However, when she does want to cry, she cannot because she had held her emotions in for so long.
The stone angel, in addition to being made of hard marble, is “doubley blind”. This is not only because it is made of stone, but due to the fact that the artist neglected to add the eyeballs to the memorial. This is also symbolic of Hagar, because she is blind to the feelings and actions of others. It prevents her from having a true friendship with Lottie. It is not until it is too late that she realizes she has more in common with Lottie than either of them had ever imagined. It also prevents her from seeing that Marvin, was the caring
son she had been looking for. During her life, Hagar fails to see that it is her son Marvin and not her son John, who is the one who sincerely cares for her.
Hagar is blind to the fact that Marvin and Doris are trying to help her in her time of sickness. Hagar fails to see that she cannot do most things by herself anymore and that she really needs the help of Marvin and Doris or she will die.
Then I fall. The pain under my ribs is the worst, ?
“Here?I?ll give you a hand,” Marvin puts in, taking my elbow.
I shove aside his paw. “I can manage quite well, thank you.
You go on down. I?ll be there in a moment. Go on now, for
pity?s sake.” (31-33)
Hagar believes she can manage on her own but she is blind to see that she cannot. Hagar?s shortcoming is that she only sees things from her point of view and is blind to the needs and aspirations of others. She can only see things from her side of the fence and cannot see how others view the world from the other side. She is a blind as the stone statue.
Although the Currie?s family pride is symbolized repeatedly by the stone angel throughout the novel, it is Hagar who is best symbolized the stone angel. The angel aptly symbolizes the blindness, hardness, and lack of feelings that are characteristics Hagar displays during her life. In retrospect , Hagar is the stone angel.