Essay on The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Stone Angel

Essay on The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Stone Angel

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The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Stone Angel  

Brian Moore, and Margaret Laurence’s concern for the plight of the individual and their position in society is clearly self-evident in their novels The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Stone Angel. Finding one’s place in society is a major dilemma many people face every day. Once people find their place in society they understand who they are, what is expected by them and what their roles are. Once a person has found their place in society they understand their life and which direction it is going.

 The main characters are portrayed as two different individuals with very different lives who have only one thing in common- their inability to find their proper place in society. Brian Moore, and Margaret Laurence’s concern for the plight of the individual and their position in society is clearly self-evident in their novels The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Stone Angel . The main characters Ginger Coffey and Hagar Shipley both struggle to survive with dignity even though their overwhelming pride often obscures reality. Throughout the novel it becomes evident that both Ginger Coffey and Hagar Shipley’s overwhelming sense of pride obscures their reality and therefore causing problems for them. Coffey the main character in Brian Moore’s novel The Luck of Ginger Coffey is portrayed as a comic hero who has endless limitations that he does not see. Ginger Coffey believes he is his own man, which is why he leaves his homeland Ireland and moves to Canada . Coffey believes Ireland would not allow him to become the person he thought he could be, " What was his aim in life ? Well...he supposed it was to be his own master, to provide for Vera and Paulie, to...to what ?...To make something of himself, he supposed." (Moore, pg.21) Coffey’s values do not seem to be unrealistic or selfish in themselves, but because he sets unobtainable and unrealistic goals he encounters numerous failures. Coffey cannot content himself with a simple job and provide for his family in this way; he wants to become someon! e important, and achieve personal status. Not realizing that these very ideas bind him to a life of repetitive failures. Because of his pride Coffey sees himself not as the middle aged man that he is, but as an attractive young boy out for new adventures.

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"Now in his prime, he considered himself a fine big fellow with a soldierly straightness to him, his red hair thick as ever and a fine mustache to boot.." (Moore, pg. 58) Coffey does not seem to be aware of reality around him, nor of how others see him. "Look at this one with his tiny green hat, short bulky coat and suede boots. A man that age should know better than to dress as a college boy."(Moore, pg. 23) Although others see him as he is, a middle aged man trying to act like a teenager, Coffey is blinded by pride and not aware of who he really is. All he knows is that he wants to make something of himself. But because of the false image he has of himself, he encounters endless frustrations in his search for work. ! He strives always for the most demanding jobs ; although he is not qualified in any way to fill any of the positions he applies for. Yet, in the end, things do not improve as Coffey thought they would , once he left Ireland. Coffey continues to be the same childish boy full of hopes and dreams unable to find his place within society. Margaret Laurence’s heroine in a way faces the same dilemma that Coffey does. Hagar Shipley in The Stone Angel is a ninety year old woman, desperately trying to live out her last days in some sort of dignity . But Hagar like Coffey suffers, for it is because of her pride, that she is unable to see the real world around her, or try to understand it. Hagar sees herself as a young woman, trapped in an old body. Thus she tries endlessly with many frustrations to do things for herself, and always fails. Hagar becomes resentful, moody, childish and angry when her son Marvin or her daughter-in-law try to help her. Hagar feels that they are trying to take her pride away, the one thing Hagar could not face up to, "I always swore I’d never be a burden-" (Laurence, pg. 37) Hagar finds it difficult to accept the fact that old age has placed limits on her capabilities. Just as Coffey is unable to face the fact that he does not have the capabilities to obtain the goals he has set for! himself. When Hagar’s daughter-in-law tries to tell her that she has wet her bed, Hagar is very upset, " That’s a lie. I never did any such thing. You’re making it up. I know your ways. Just so you’ll have some reason for putting me away."(Laurence, pg. 74) Hagar’s pride will not allow her to accept the reality about herself, nor will it allow her to communicate openly with others. Hagar does not see herself as a burdensome old woman, but as a person with a past, a present and perhaps still some future. She is an individual, something her pride will not allow her to sacrifice, in order to play the various roles society wants her to play. Doris and her son Marvin want to take Hagar out of her own home, for her own good, and put her away in a nursing home. For this is where society says that the old and helpless belong. But Hagar refuses to accept this role, as Coffey refuses in the beginning to lower his standards and accept menial jobs. Hagar will not allow others t! o take away her pride and self-respect ; therefore she desperately hangs on to life the only way she knows. In order to do this, she feels she must become an unpleasant, proud, bitter and vengeful character. Brian Moore and Margaret Laurence portray both Hagar and Coffey as two people struggling to survive with some dignity even when the world seems to be against them.

Throughout the novel Hagar struggles to survive with dignity. Hagar does not face the fact that she is old and can not do things for herself. She is constantly struggling with herself as she continuously tries to do everything for herself even though she never succeeds. When Doris tries to persuade her to go into a nursing home Hagar refuses. "How can I leave my house ? I don’t want to leave my house and all my things ?" (Laurence, pg. 119) Hagar is not willing to give up her freedom, she runs away and manages to get herself back home to Manawaka. Yet, Hagar struggles to care for herself and eventually contemplates going back home. "No, I’ll not do it...... if I went back...she’d known all along she could not trust me out of her sight for a moment...They’d crate me up in the car and deliver me like a parc! el of old clothes to that place." (Laurence, pg. ) This portrays Hagar’s inner struggle. Although Hagar is not able to care for herself as she once was she is determined not to give up her freedom or her pride and be sent off to a nursing home. Eventually Hagar realizes that she may not have a choice. "I can’t move, I can’t rise. I’m stuck here like an overturned ladybug, frantically waving to summon help that won’t come...I hurt all over , but the worst is that I’m helpless." (Laurence, pg. 191) Hagar’s only comfort is in the fact that ".. no one else is here to see, and that’s something." (Laurence, pg. 191) Throughout the novel it becomes evident that Hagar will not allow others to take away her pride and self-respect therefore desperately hanging onto life the only way she knows. In order to do this she becomes unpleasant, proud, bitter and vengeful. Ginger Coffey also struggles to survive with dignity.

Coffey continuously struggles to hold onto his pride as he begs for work. Coffey continues to try to get difficult and demanding jobs when he is only suited for menial ones . It is his pride that will not let him get the job he is most suitable for. Coffey can not content himself with a simple job and provide for his family in this way ; he wants to become someone important, and achieve personal status even though he can not. It is in one interview that Coffey realizes what a fool he is. "Stupid blundering fool ! Why didn’t you wait to see if he remembered you ? He doesn’t know you from a hole in the wall, coming in with your hand out ! Get up, say thank you and go away." (Moore, pg. 24-25) Coffey tries to survive rejection with some sort of dignity by just saying thank you and leaving. What Coffey wanted in life was the chance to survive, not just for the sake of surviving, but to survive with some dignity. For! Coffey this meant the ability to acquire personal status. Coffey’s problem is that he can not seethe real world in Ireland or Canada. Thus, he moves and live in an unrealistic world where he soon learns that he can’t survive. Hagar also lives in an unrealistic world where she struggles to survive by believing that she can take care of herself when in reality she can not. Throughout the novel Hagar and Coffey are on a journey to self realization which in the end becomes they key factor in allowing them to face reality and find their places in society. Coffey finally starts his journey towards self-realization when his world starts to crumble. His wife leaves him and his daughter moves further away from him. Veronica, Coffey’s wife seems to be the only one who knows the real Ginger Coffey and is the one who constantly tries to help him face reality. "Isn’t the job you’re in always a burden to you, isn’t it always no good...will you never face the facts..." (Moore, pg. 58)

Coffey’s journey into self realization is a comic and pitiful one for Coffey, because it comes too late in life. Once Coffey is able to get rid of the exalted view he has of himself, and move out of his unrealistic world, he can begin to understand where he must go and what he must do in order to find his place in society. He must face reality and "... abandon th! e facts of his life for the facts of the world," (Moore, pg. 118) before this can be done. It is before the mirror, a symbol of truth in the novel, that Ginger Coffey sees his real self, "His image in the dresser mirror ... He hated that man in the mirror, hated him. Oh, God, there was a useless bloody man, coming up to forty and still full of a boy’s dreams of ships coming in; of adventures and escapes and glories still to be." (Moore, pg. 93) Coffey no longer sees himself as a young boy with the capability of doing anything but sees himself as he truly is. The final realizations comes to Coffey in the very end of the novel, "He knew now, something he had not known before. A man’s life was nobody’s fault. He must pay for it himself." (Moore, pg. 225) "He had learned the truth. Life was the victory,...Going on was the victory." (Moore, pg. 243) What Coffey wanted in life was the chance to survive, not just for the sake of surviving, but to survive with some dignity. ! For Coffey this meant the ability to acquire personal status. Hagar also journeys into self realization when she runs away from home to Manawaka because she does not want to be sent to the nursing home. But out alone in the world, we see that she cannot survive, she needs others to take care of her. " And then I do fall. My feet slip, both together on a clump of wet moss, and I’m down. My elbows are skinned on rough bark....Under my ribs the pain drums.. I can’t move. I can’t rise." (Laurence, pg. 191)

Although Hagar was determined to leave her son and survive on her own she is somewhat secretly happy to see him. "In my heart I have to admit I’m relived to see him. Yet I despise my gladness. Have I grown so weak I must rejoice at being captured, taken alive ?" (Laurence, pg. 252) Hagar realizes she can not survive on her own and continues to be bitter. Thus like Coffey , Hagar journeys into self realization and finally accepts the fact that she is no longer ! a young woman but an old women who needs to be taken care of by others since she can not take care of herself any longer. Hagar also puts her pride aside and comforts her son Marvin when she was in the hospital. "You’ve been good to me, always. A better son that John." (Laurence, pg. 304) This is something she would not have done before. Although in the end both Coffey and Hagar do succumb to reality they can not totally give up on their beliefs. Coffey still resents having to work at menial jobs ; while Hagar when on her death bed is still determined to hold on to the only thing she has left, her pride. "Oh for mercy’s sake let me hold it myself !" I only defeat myself by not accepting her. I know this- I know it very well. But I can’t help it-it’s my nature... I’ll not countenance anyone else’s holding it for me..." (Laurence, pg. 308) Hagar dies holding on to some pride and feeling defeated by society while Coffey must continue his struggle trying to hold onto h! is pride and dignity as he searches for his proper place in society. Perhaps Hagar is what Coffey is destined to become. Thus, in the end both Hagar and Coffey’s struggles and journey into self-realization allows them to find their proper place in society. Once both the characters come to accept who they really are and face reality they come to the point of self realization which helps them both survive.

Although the two characters were different in the sense that they led totally different lives, with different values and expectations they were connected by the fact that they both had an inner struggle that they had to overcome in order to survive in the real world. Both Brian Moore and Margaret Laurence relay a similar message in their novels. Moore believes that we must sometimes gibe up and sacrifice what we believe in (absolute values) in order to survive in this world and survival is what is important in the end. While Laurence also believes that one cannot hold on to everything they believe in, and survive in society, sometimes absolute values must be sacrifices because in the end, survival is what counts !

 
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