A symbol is a literary device used by the author to portray an idea to the reader. In Margaret Laurence's, The Stone Angel, the stone angel is a symbol used to heighten the reader's understanding of the characteristics of Hagar Shipley. First, the stone angel is used to show Hagar's pride in the Currie family name. She prizes the stone angel because it is expensive and imported from Italy to honour a mother Hagar never knew. Similarly, the stone angel is symbolic of Hagar's inability to show emotions; like the angel, Hagar is hard and cold. Lastly, the angel is symbolic of Hagar's blindness, just as the angel; Hagar is doubly blind. The symbolism of the stone angel is first apparent in Hagar's pride in the Currie family name.
The stone angel is symbolic of Hagar's vanity in her surname. Hagar values the angel because it is an emblem of the Currie family. The angel was purchased by Hagar's father to honour her mother, but it appears more to honour their name than anything else. Hagar says, "...in memory of her who relinquished her feeble ghost as I gained my stubborn one, my mother's angel that my father bought to make her bones and proclaim his dynasty, as he fancied, forever and a day...She was not the only angel in the Manawaka cemetery, but she was the first, the largest, and certainly the costliest." (1-2). Hagar takes great pride in her family from this angel. It is a marker of her family's name that will be kept throughout the ages. When the angel has been vandalized, Hagar has John help her push it back into place and clean it off. Hagar, through marrying Bram Shipley has disgraced the Currie name. The angel being vandalized slso fails to honour the family. Both seem to have lost face. The symbol of the stone angel is further used to reflect Hagar's inability to show emotions.
Hagar is unable to show how she feels, or relate to other people. Just like the angel Hagar has become hard and unyielding. The stone angel is made of hard, cold marble, making it strong and stiff. Like the angel, Hagar Shipley is cool and impermeable towards the world. She never reveals her true feelings to the people she knows because she sees this as a risk of being thought of as ‘soft'. This aspect of Hagar's personality is best shown when her son John dies. Hagar says, "The night my son died I was transformed to stone and never wept at all. When the ministering women handed me the cup of hot coffee, they murmured how well I was taking it, and I could only look at them dry-eyed from a great distance and not say a single word."(264) Hagar is so unable to show her emotions that even when her son dies she dare not cry. Like the stone angel she is unmoved. She fears that if she turns to the women around her for help she will be seen as some delicate, helpless creature. Hagar's coolness and hardness like that of the marble angel, is further shown when Bram's favourite horse dies; Hagar is upset for him, knowing how much the horse means to Bram. Yet, Hagar refuses to comfort him. Finally, the stone angel is symbolic of Hagar's blindness.
The stone angel of the Currie family is doubly blind; this is because the artist neglected to add eyeballs to its chiseled face. This is symbolic of Hagar because she is blind to those around her. It is this blindness that causes Hagar to fail to recognize the fact that Marvin is the son that she seeks. From the birth of John, Hagar has always prized him as the son who will go on to make something of himself, who will do something with his life. In the end, however, John becomes more like Bram, as Marvin gains himself a job and position in life. Hagar's blindness keeps her from realizing this until one day she has a fight with John, and he says, "You always bet on the wrong horse...Marv was your boy, but you never saw that, did you?" (258) Hagar is never able to see Marvin as the successful son, even after John's death. Hagar's blindness is further apparent by the fact that she never gains a friendship with Lottie. It is not until it is too late that Hagar realizes that she has much in common with Lottie. Like the stone angel, Hagar stares blankly into the faces of those around her and never has an idea of what is truly going on.
A symbol is a concrete object used to heighten a reader's understanding of a character. In Margaret Laurence's, The Stone Angel, the symbol of Hagar's mother's grave marker, a stone angel, is used to illustrate aspects of Hagar's personality. The stone angel is symbolic of Hagar's pride in the Currie name, her inability to show emotions, and her blindness to those around her. Through the use of the stone angel Laurence portrays in Hagar a realistic and interchangeable character.
Laurence, Margaret. The Stone Angel. Canada: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1964.