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Home » The Stone Angel: A Critical Examination of Margaret Laurence’s Literary Masterpiece

The Stone Angel: A Critical Examination of Margaret Laurence’s Literary Masterpiece

Margaret Laurence’s novel, The Stone Angel, is a literary masterpiece that has captivated readers since its publication in 1964. Set in the fictional town of Manawaka, Canada, the novel tells the story of Hagar Shipley, an elderly woman reflecting on her life and coming to terms with her mortality. This critical examination of The Stone Angel explores the themes of identity, memory, and the human condition that are woven throughout the novel. Through an analysis of Laurence’s writing style, characterization, and use of symbolism, this article aims to shed light on the enduring impact of The Stone Angel on Canadian literature and beyond.

Background Information

Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is a novel that explores the life of Hagar Shipley, an elderly woman who is reflecting on her past as she approaches death. The novel is set in the fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba, and spans several decades of Hagar’s life, from her childhood to her old age. The novel is widely regarded as one of Laurence’s greatest works, and has been praised for its vivid portrayal of Hagar’s character and its exploration of themes such as aging, family, and the search for identity. The Stone Angel has been adapted into a film and has been translated into several languages, cementing its place as a classic of Canadian literature.

Character Analysis

Hagar Shipley, the protagonist of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, is a complex and multifaceted character. At first glance, she appears to be a stubborn and unyielding old woman, but as the story unfolds, we begin to see the layers of her personality and the reasons behind her behavior. Hagar is a product of her environment and upbringing, and her experiences have shaped her into the person she is today. She is fiercely independent and refuses to be controlled by anyone, even her own family. However, this independence comes at a cost, and Hagar’s refusal to accept help or support from others ultimately leads to her downfall. Despite her flaws, Hagar is a sympathetic character, and her struggles and inner turmoil are relatable to readers of all ages. Through Hagar’s journey, Laurence explores themes of aging, family dynamics, and the search for identity, making The Stone Angel a timeless masterpiece of Canadian literature.

Symbolism and Imagery

Symbolism and Imagery play a significant role in Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel. The novel is filled with various symbols and images that help to convey the themes and messages of the story. One of the most prominent symbols in the novel is the stone angel itself. The statue represents Hagar’s pride and stubbornness, as well as her fear of death and her desire for immortality. The image of the angel is also used to represent the idea of a guardian angel, watching over Hagar and guiding her through her life.

Another important symbol in the novel is the flower garden. The garden represents Hagar’s desire for beauty and order in her life, as well as her need for control. The garden also serves as a metaphor for Hagar’s life, with the flowers representing the different stages of her life and the changes she goes through.

The imagery in the novel is also significant, particularly the use of nature imagery. The descriptions of the prairie landscape and the changing seasons help to create a sense of the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The use of water imagery, such as the river and the rain, also serves to symbolize the idea of renewal and rebirth.

Overall, the symbolism and imagery in The Stone Angel help to create a rich and complex narrative that explores themes of identity, mortality, and the human condition. Through these literary devices, Laurence is able to convey a powerful message about the importance of accepting one’s own mortality and finding meaning in the fleeting moments of life.

Themes and Motifs

One of the most prominent themes in Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is the idea of pride and its destructive nature. The protagonist, Hagar Shipley, is a proud and stubborn woman who refuses to admit her faults and weaknesses. This pride leads to her isolation and loneliness, as she pushes away those who care for her. Another recurring motif in the novel is the use of stones and rocks, which symbolize the unyielding and unchanging nature of the characters and their surroundings. The stone angel statue in the cemetery serves as a reminder of Hagar’s mortality and the inevitability of death. These themes and motifs contribute to the overall message of the novel, which explores the complexities of human relationships and the consequences of our actions.

Setting and Atmosphere

The setting and atmosphere of Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel, play a crucial role in the development of the novel’s themes and characters. The novel is set in the fictional town of Manawaka, a small prairie town in western Canada. The town’s harsh and unforgiving landscape serves as a metaphor for the protagonist’s own life, which is marked by struggle and hardship. The novel’s opening lines set the tone for the entire story: “I am an old woman now, and I have lived a long and difficult life. Most of it I have spent alone, except for my son, Marvin, who never had much time for me.” These lines immediately establish the novel’s melancholic and introspective atmosphere, which is sustained throughout the entire story. The Stone Angel is a powerful and moving novel that explores the complexities of human relationships, the nature of memory and identity, and the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life.

Narrative Structure

The narrative structure of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is a complex and intricate web of past and present, memory and reality. The novel is divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on the protagonist Hagar Shipley’s present-day struggles as an elderly woman, and the second part delving into her past and the events that shaped her into the person she is today. The use of flashbacks and shifting perspectives allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of Hagar’s character and the motivations behind her actions. The narrative structure also highlights the theme of the passage of time and the inevitability of aging, as Hagar’s memories become increasingly fragmented and distorted as she grows older. Overall, the narrative structure of The Stone Angel adds depth and complexity to the novel, making it a literary masterpiece that continues to captivate readers today.

Point of View

The point of view in Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is a crucial element in understanding the protagonist, Hagar Shipley. The novel is narrated in the first person by Hagar herself, which allows readers to delve into her thoughts, emotions, and memories. However, it also presents a limited perspective as Hagar’s biases and prejudices color her perception of events and people around her. This unreliable narrator adds complexity to the novel and challenges readers to question their own assumptions and judgments. Additionally, the use of flashbacks and shifts in time further emphasize the importance of point of view in understanding Hagar’s character development and the themes of the novel.

Language and Style

Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel, is a prime example of the power of language and style in storytelling. Laurence’s use of vivid imagery and poetic language creates a rich and immersive reading experience for the audience. The novel’s protagonist, Hagar Shipley, is brought to life through Laurence’s masterful use of language, allowing readers to fully understand and empathize with her complex character. Additionally, Laurence’s use of regional dialect and colloquialisms adds authenticity to the novel’s setting and characters. Overall, The Stone Angel is a testament to the importance of language and style in crafting a compelling and unforgettable story.

Historical and Cultural Context

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is a novel that is deeply rooted in the historical and cultural context of Canada. Set in the fictional town of Manawaka, the novel explores the life of Hagar Shipley, an elderly woman who is reflecting on her past. The novel is set in the early 1960s, a time when Canada was undergoing significant social and cultural changes. The country was moving away from its colonial past and embracing a more modern and diverse society.

Laurence’s novel is also deeply connected to the cultural context of Canada. The novel explores themes of identity, family, and community, which are all important aspects of Canadian culture. The novel also explores the relationship between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Hagar’s family has a complicated history with the Indigenous community, and the novel explores the impact of this history on Hagar’s life.

Overall, The Stone Angel is a novel that is deeply connected to the historical and cultural context of Canada. Through its exploration of themes of identity, family, and community, the novel provides a powerful commentary on the social and cultural changes that were taking place in Canada in the early 1960s.

Feminist Critique

The feminist critique of Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel, centers on the portrayal of the novel’s protagonist, Hagar Shipley. While some argue that Hagar is a strong and independent woman, others argue that her character is limited by patriarchal norms and societal expectations. Critics point to Hagar’s inability to fully express herself and her reliance on male figures throughout the novel as evidence of her subjugation to male dominance. Additionally, Hagar’s relationships with other women in the novel are often fraught with tension and competition, suggesting a lack of solidarity among women. Despite these criticisms, The Stone Angel remains a powerful exploration of the complexities of gender and identity in a patriarchal society.

Religious and Spiritual Themes

Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel, is a novel that explores various religious and spiritual themes. The protagonist, Hagar Shipley, is a proud and stubborn woman who struggles with her faith and spirituality throughout the novel. Hagar’s religious beliefs are deeply rooted in her Presbyterian upbringing, but she questions the existence of God and the purpose of life. As she reflects on her life, Hagar realizes that her pride and stubbornness have led her to make poor decisions and alienate herself from her loved ones. She begins to seek forgiveness and redemption, but her journey is not an easy one. The novel also explores the themes of mortality, death, and the afterlife. Hagar’s fear of death and her uncertainty about what comes after death are central to the novel. Laurence’s portrayal of Hagar’s spiritual journey is both poignant and thought-provoking, and it raises important questions about the nature of faith and spirituality. The Stone Angel is a powerful exploration of the human condition, and its religious and spiritual themes make it a timeless masterpiece.

Psychological Analysis

The psychological analysis of Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel, reveals the complex and deeply flawed character of Hagar Shipley. Hagar’s stubbornness, pride, and fear of vulnerability are all rooted in her traumatic childhood experiences and her strained relationship with her father. As a result, Hagar’s inability to connect with others and her constant need for control ultimately lead to her isolation and loneliness. However, through her journey of self-discovery and acceptance, Hagar learns to confront her past and embrace her vulnerabilities, ultimately finding a sense of peace and redemption. The Stone Angel serves as a powerful exploration of the human psyche and the transformative power of self-reflection and acceptance.

Comparative Analysis

In comparison to other Canadian literary works, Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel stands out as a masterpiece. While many Canadian novels focus on the country’s landscape and its impact on the characters, Laurence’s novel delves deeper into the psyche of its protagonist, Hagar Shipley. The novel’s exploration of themes such as aging, family dynamics, and the search for identity resonates with readers of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, Laurence’s use of symbolism and imagery adds depth and complexity to the novel, making it a timeless piece of literature. Overall, The Stone Angel is a must-read for anyone interested in Canadian literature and the human experience.

Reception and Legacy

The Stone Angel has been widely recognized as one of Margaret Laurence’s most significant literary works. The novel has received critical acclaim for its portrayal of the protagonist, Hagar Shipley, and her struggles with aging, family relationships, and societal expectations. The novel’s reception has been positive, with many readers and critics praising Laurence’s writing style and her ability to capture the complexities of human emotions. The Stone Angel has also been adapted into a film and a stage play, further cementing its place in Canadian literature. The novel’s legacy continues to inspire readers and writers alike, and it remains a timeless masterpiece that explores the universal themes of life, death, and the human condition.

Author’s Biography

Margaret Laurence was a Canadian novelist and short-story writer, born on July 18, 1926, in Neepawa, Manitoba. She was the daughter of a lawyer and a nurse, and her parents’ marriage was tumultuous, which had a significant impact on her life and writing. Laurence attended the University of Manitoba, where she studied English and journalism. After graduation, she worked as a journalist for several years before turning to fiction writing. Her first novel, This Side Jordan, was published in 1960, and she went on to write several more critically acclaimed works, including The Stone Angel, A Jest of God, and The Diviners. Laurence was known for her vivid descriptions of the Canadian prairies and her exploration of themes such as identity, family, and social justice. She was awarded numerous literary prizes throughout her career, including the Governor General’s Award for Fiction twice. Laurence passed away on January 5, 1987, leaving behind a legacy as one of Canada’s most celebrated writers.

Contemporary Relevance

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence is a literary masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today. The novel explores themes of aging, family dynamics, and the search for identity, all of which are still relevant in contemporary society. The protagonist, Hagar Shipley, is a complex and flawed character who struggles with the limitations placed on her by society and her own stubbornness. Her journey towards self-discovery and acceptance is one that many readers can relate to, regardless of their age or background. Additionally, the novel’s exploration of the relationship between parents and children is one that remains relevant today, as families continue to grapple with issues of communication, understanding, and forgiveness. Overall, The Stone Angel is a timeless work of literature that continues to speak to readers of all generations.

Educational Significance

The educational significance of Margaret Laurence’s literary masterpiece, The Stone Angel, cannot be overstated. The novel offers a profound exploration of the human condition, delving into themes of aging, family dynamics, and the search for identity. Through the character of Hagar Shipley, Laurence presents a complex and nuanced portrayal of a woman struggling to come to terms with her past and present. The novel also offers a rich historical and cultural context, set against the backdrop of rural Manitoba in the early 20th century. The Stone Angel is a valuable resource for educators seeking to engage students in discussions about literature, history, and social issues. Its themes and characters offer a wealth of opportunities for critical analysis and reflection, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the power of literature to illuminate the human experience.

Adaptations and Interpretations

One of the most notable adaptations of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is the 2007 film adaptation directed by Kari Skogland. The film stars Ellen Burstyn as Hagar Shipley, the novel’s protagonist, and features a screenplay by Skogland herself. While the film received mixed reviews, it remains a faithful adaptation of the novel, capturing the essence of Hagar’s character and the themes of the novel. Another notable adaptation is the stage play adaptation by James W. Nichol, which premiered in 1995 and has been performed in various theaters across Canada. The play condenses the novel’s plot and focuses on Hagar’s memories and reflections, making it a powerful and emotional theatrical experience. These adaptations and interpretations of The Stone Angel demonstrate the enduring impact and relevance of Laurence’s literary masterpiece.