An essay on whether or not The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence, is a tragedy
“With her life nearly behind her, Hagar makes a bold, last step towards freedom and independence.” The synopsis of Margaret Laurence’s novel, The Stone Angel, reveals the essence of Hagar’s life. She is controlled her entire life; first as a Currie, and then as a Shipley. She strives for freedom and independence. Indeed, most people do; however, her endeavours are futile. Never free to “rejoice,” her struggles predispose her to a prideful proclivity, making her isolated and arrogant. In my opinion, “The Stone Angel” is a tragedy because Hagar pursues “[Her] rightful status,” her desire for freedom, but circumstance always prevents it. Captivated by her history, we pity Hagar, understanding her suffering is greater than her offence. And we’re fearful, for we understand a similar fate could await us.
Our introduction to Jason Currie reveals authoritarian attributes. “You’ll not marry that fellow ever, I can vow to that much,” he announces to Hagar (p 48). His demanding and authoritative tendencies are demonstrated further with claims no girl “would wed without her family’s consent” (p 49). Daring and exhilarated, Hagar resists, proclaiming “It’ll be done by me” (p 49). Her independence and freedom are, essentially, held captive by her father. Thus, Hagar desired to relieve herself of suffering, disposing of the Currie familial constraints, so she married Bram, despite offending her father. Keeping with tragedy, she found captivity searching for freedom. Brampton Shipley proved no different.
Unlike her father, Brampton’s shameless behaviour implicitly controls Hagar by impeding her status “of uncompromising pride.” During a sermon, Bram questions sarcastically, “won’t the saintly bastard ever shut his trap” (p 89). Due to Bram’s abrasive impatience Hagar decides against attending church. “I preferred eternal damnation in some comfortably distant future, to any ordeal then of peeking or pitying eyes” (p 90). Hagar’s acknowledgement of God’s omniscience when she asks, “Can God be One and watching?” (p 93), represents this events significant implication. Religiously evoking, The Stone Angel presents a character who denounces God, like Peter, fearing others’ opinions. But Hagar’s suffering is greater than her offence. Her decision against attending church represents society’s tragic imperfection, our perpetual struggle with others’ opinions. Indeed, Brampton’s abhorrence provokes a “nothing to do with me” expression from Hagar’s father, effectively representing renunciation of fatherhood (p 89). Disrupting her piety, however, is but one impediment enacted by her marriage. Moreover, the marriage unsettles Hagar’s social reputation. Bram is embarrassing and repulsive. His behaviour during the sermon is just one example of his shortcomings. Eventually, her marriage becomes cumbersome, so she “Packed our things, John’s and mine” deciding, again, to redeem herself. John asks “are we going to live with Marvin on the coast,” Hagar replies, asserting her desire for independence, “No. We’ll find a place of our own.” (p 140)
Desiring to abandon imprisoned lives, where Hagar’s freedom was inhibited, Hagar unexpectedly transforms into a warden. “John – you’ll not marry her?” she asks, shocked at his audacious disregard for the Currie’s social superiority (p 204). Ultimately, an alliance with Lottie was formed to prevent the marriage (p 211). This transformation insinuates the story’s tragic effect. It represents Hagar’s connection with the audience. Hagar’s regard for John’s marriage evokes fear within the audience, stimulating thoughts that, perhaps, we too are susceptible to transformation.
Hagar’s relationships in The Stone Angel contain similarities. Hagar’s father’s authoritative temperament instils a zealous inclination toward freedom within her, so she rebels by asserting her independence by marrying Bram. Conversely, Bram is a disdainful embarrassment, so she escapes with John. She, ultimately, transforms to what she resents most, an authoritarian individual in John’s life. Because her desires derive from her pride, Hagar circumvents these impediments not considering harm to others i.e. regardless whether impediments are imposed on John. Her relationships embody tragedy because her offences towards her family are not greater than the suffering she encounters when her pride is harmed.
Pride connects Hagar and King Lear. Their tragic flaw precedes their offences. Hagar’s Pride originates from her pioneering father. He questioned her often, “Have you no regard for my reputation?” “Nobody’s going to hand you anything on a silver platter. It’s up to you, nobody else,” he would profess. Hagar eventually becomes prideful, independent and arrogant, like her father. Their pride, however, predisposes them to believe they cannot wrong. The Currie father and daughter flaunted their pride to the extent they seized their respective children’s independence and freedom. This prideful proclivity is Hagar’s greatest offence, but it, too, is trifling compared with her suffering. Ultimately, John dies. Her “uncompromising” desire to sustain her family’s social status resulted in the argument. Suspecting Hagar’s involvement in Arlene’s departure, John was furious (p 236). And he drank, eventually getting hit by a train. Hagar’s prideful proclivity, indeed, precipitated John’s death. And losing a child is life’s greatest affliction.
"I can't bear to feel indebted. I can be as grateful as the next person, as long as it's not forced on me" (p 258). Hagar’s attitude and persona exemplify her struggle. It is said “not even God can do everything himself.” Indeed, parallel to Lear, Hagar’s pride is zealous and unyielding, the constant misstep leading to ruin. She’s prepared “to lay down [her] life, if need be, to secure” her dignity and her pride. Travelling to The Point (Chp 5), we witness her determination. She, independently, cashed a cheque at the bank, purchased her necessities and hitchhiked to her destination. Constantly worried and frightened, she persevered. This journey is similar to Lear’s during the Storm; an exertion of the soul. She scared Marvin and Doris, but Hagar’s purpose was to maintain her dignity and pride, to keep from suffering for her dignity is really all she has.
Hagar’s relationships and, particularly, her attitude represent a struggle. One in which Hagar seeks to sustain her pride, freedom and independence among impediments. The Stone Angel is a tragedy because her struggle against obstacles represents the tragic hero’s, one who we pity because their suffering, desire for freedom and independence (as the Buddha said, desire is the beginning of suffering), is greater than her offence, pride. We’re fearful because we understand the possibility of never escaping our own suffering, and possibly succumbing to it.