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A Summation of Pride-Related Occurrences in The Stone Angel
Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel is one of the most acclaimed Canadian novels of all time. In this novel, the most prevailing theme is that of pride; this is seen predominantly through the protagonist, Hagar, but also through other characters, such as Jason Currie. As John Moss states, "What gives Margaret Laurence's vision the resonant dimensions of universal truth is the…interlacing of the destructive and constructive effects of (Hagar's) recalcitrant pride…Pride is a double-edged sword." Indeed, her great pride helps her to cope with the many difficulties she faces throughout her life. This pride, however, also "separates inclination and response" (J. Moss), resulting in several strained relationships which Hagar was unable to mend. John Moss believes that "Hagar's pride repeatedly imprisoned her within the confines of thwarted affections and misdirected emotion." More specifically, her pride caused such things as an unhappy marriage with Brampton Shipley and a severance of all ties with her father, Jason, and her brother, Matt. Her pride serves her best in her dying days, when "she will not submit to frailty and deferential concern. She rages 'against the dying of the light' with the same wrong-headed spleen that she had always displayed…in the counterpointed present her…pride is heroic" (J. Moss).
Definition of Pride:
Pride n. 1. Inordinate self-esteem; high opinion of one's own importance or worth; conceit. 2. arrogance; haughtiness. 3. honorable self-respect; personal dignity.
4. smug pleasure taken in the success of oneself or another. 5. a person or thing in which one takes such pleasure.
Analysis of the Theme of Pride via a Short Summation of Pride-Related Occurrences: The first reference to pride is in the second sentence of the novel: Hagar describes the Stone Angel as "my mother's angel that my father bought in pride to mark her bones and proclaim his dynasty…" (3). Hagar's father was a very proud man, a trait that was passed on to his daughter, and he takes great pride in this "terribly expensive" statue, which "had been brought from Italy" … "and was pure white marble" (3). Hagar recollects exhibiting her pride as early as age 6 when she says "There was I, strutting the board sidewalk like a pint-sized peacock, resplendent, haughty, hoity-toity, Jason Currie's black-haired daughter" (6). Jason Currie was a "self-made man" who "had pulled himself up by his bootstraps" (7).
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Hagar's father, because he worked so hard, took great pleasure in his store. She says, "Father took such pride in the store - you'd have thought it was the only one on earth. It was the first in Manawaka, so I guess he had due cause. He would lean across the counter, spreading his hands, and smile so wonderfully you'd feel he welcomed the world" (9). Mr. Currie had excessive self-esteem, as seen when the Reverend Dougall MacCulloch was calling out the names of the people who had contributed to help build the new church. Jason Curried leaned over and arrogantly said to his daughter "I and Luke McVitie must've given the most, as he called our names the first" (16). The Currie's held very high opinions of themselves; this is shown when Hagar refers to her father, saying, "Matt and Dan and I always knew he could never have brought himself to marry his housekeeper" (17). The pride she felt in her youth is present also when Hagar is grown up. She is frustrated at both her lack of coordination and her arthritis, which causes her to fall (31). Her reaction is as follows: "I perceive the tears, my own they must be although they have sprung so unbidden I feel they are like the incontinent wetness of the infirm. Trickling, they taunt down my face. They are no tears of mine, in front of her. I dismiss them, blaspheme against them - let them be gone. But I have not spoken and they are still there" (31). Later, Hagar descends the stairs - on her own - and smugly thinks "I hold the banister tightly, and of course I'm all right, perfectly all right, as I always am when I haven't got an audience" (33). When the minister from Doris' parish visits Hagar, her personal dignity is definitely at risk. In her thoughts, she describes the incident. "I sit uncomfortably. I am bloated, full, weighted down, and I fear I may pass wind. Nevertheless, for the minister's call I have at least put on my gray flowered dress…and the flowers, sprinkled liberally, almost overcome the gray" (40) Early in the second chapter, there are several instances in which Hagar' pride prevents her from responding to her inclinations. The first occurs just before Hagar leaves for college: she wanted to tell her brother Matt that "he should have been the one to go" to college, but she is unable to do so and "Later, in the train," she cried (42). Further on, she is unable to attempt to reconcile after a dispute with her father concerning whether or not she would pursue a career as a teacher. This is how she remembers the incident: "I jerked my hand away as though I had accidentally set it on a hot stove. He didn't say a word. He turned and went outside… I felt I must pursue him, say it was a passing thing and not meant. But I didn't" (44, 45). Hagar feels a great loss of pride when she reads the advertisement for the Silverthreads nursing home and realizes what her son and daughter-in-law have been planning and why Doris had invited the minister over. (53, 54) Afterwards, Doris realizes what happened and tries to pacify Hagar; however, Hagar "will not be appeased" (56). Hagar is, once again, at a loss when she realizes that she's been daydreaming while Doris has been talking to her. Hagar thinks "How long have I been standing here with lowered head, twiddling with the silken stuff that covers me? Now I am mortified, apologetic…" (57). Her pride gets the best of her during an argument with Doris concerning the nursing home. Hagar turns and walks away, "wishing to be haughty, but hideously hitting the edge of the dining-room table…" (58). The combination of Jason Currie's pride, which caused him to feel Bram was unworthy of his daughter, and Hagar's pride, which kept her from acting upon her inclinations, caused the severance of their relationship after she got married against his wishes. When Hagar' first son was born, he did not go to see him because "Perhaps he didn't feel as though Marvin were really his grandson" (62). Ironically, Hagar felt that Marvin was not really her son; however, her reasons were dissimilar to his. After the death of her father, Hagar is upset that he did not leave her any money in the will; he gave the money to the preservation of the family plot and to the town. In response, the town made the Currie Memorial Park, which Hagar forever despises because of her arrogance. She remembers this park in her thoughts: "…nearly circular beds of petunias proclaimed my father's immortality in mauve and pink frilled petals. Even now, I detest petunias" (64). Marvin and Doris wish to go out for a movie one evening and plan to have a neighbour come over to care for Hagar. They are worried about leaving her alone because of her various health conditions. The proud old lady, however, is quite offended, saying "You think I need a sitter, like a child" (67). The evening is called off and an argument ensues. Because of her upbringing, Hagar was always proud of the way she and her relatives dressed. After her marriage, however, she encountered some difficulties. She remembers "Marvin, the day he started school, wearing a sailor suit and a face blank as water. He hated that navy-blue suit … for most of the other boys wore overalls. I soon gave up trying to dress him decently and let him wear overalls, too … Bram's daughters used to give me the overalls their boys had grown out of. How it galled me …" (69) Hagar's pride toward her husband resulted only from his looks, for "Whatever anyone said of him, no one could deny he was a good looking man … I could have been proud, going to town or church with him, if only he'd never opened his mouth" (69, 70). Marvin and Doris humble Hagar as they make her aware that they are no longer able to care for her; she needs a nurse to lift her and there are several other complications that they are unable to deal with. As they try to convince her of how nice Silverthreads is, she reacts with hostility, saying, "Full of petunias, I suppose" (73-75). Hagar believes that everyone is trying to destroy what little dignity she has left. Hagar's pride takes another thrashing because she needs Doris' help to get undressed. Her thoughts are: "How it irks me to have to take her hand, allow her to pull my dress over my head, undo my corsets and strip them off me, and have her see my blue-veined swollen flesh…" (77). Throughout her marriage with Brampton Shipley, Hagar prides herself upon keeping her "pride intact, like some maidenhead" (81). Hagar, in her later years, took great pleasure in spiting Doris. She recollects one such time: "Before we came, Doris maintained that on a warm day like this, I'd perspire and spoil my lilac silk, but I wore it despite her" (90). Although she was unable to shed tears after the deaths of her close family members, Hagar is, ironically, moved to tears one day on a bus. "A teenage girl…rises and gives me her seat. How very kind of her. I can scarcely nod my thanks, fearing she'll see my unseemly tears. And once again it seems an oddity, that I should have remained unweeping over my dead men and now possess two deep salt springs in my face over such a triviality as this. There's no explaining it" (92). As Hagar, Marvin, and Doris are touring the Silverthreads nursing home - against Hagar's will - she says "I never cared for barracks" in reply to Doris' inquiry as to whether Hagar liked the dining hall. Hagar is, however, ashamed that she said so, because the place is very nice and her rude comment was quite unnecessary. She thinks "I used to pride myself on my manners. How have I descended to this snarl? (98) Hagar took great pride in her second son, John. She had never felt that Marvin was truly her son, because she had not wanted a child at the time; with John, however, she reacted quite differently. This is how she remembers his birth: "It was an easy birth … I took to him at once, and was surprised. But there was no resisting him. He looked so alert, his eyes wide and open. I had to laugh. Such a little whiffet to be so spirited. He had black hair, a regular sheaf of it. Black as my own, I thought, forgetting for the moment that Bram was black-haired too" (122). Hagar is greatly humbled when she and John go to Lottie Drieser's house to deliver eggs and Lottie daughter calls Hagar "The egg woman." Hagar remembers that: "I didn't look at John, nor he at me. I think we both looked blindly ahead at the lighted kitchen, like bewildered moths" (132). When Hagar is planning to leave Bram, she rejects his suggestion to boil some eggs to eat on the train, saying "I wouldn't take eggs onto a train … They'd think we were hicks." Even though her life has gone downhill since she married him, she has always been able to retain her pride. (142) Hagar, needing a young girls help to get to Shadow Point, recalls that special pride that youths feel, as she thinks "Perhaps she'll glide away, with that haughtiness only the young can muster, not wanting to be bothered" (147). While living with and working for Mr. Oatley, Hagar is proud of how quickly John makes new friends. She states that "he could charm the birds off the trees when he wanted to, that boy." But when she calls the Connors to ask them to send John home, Mrs. Connor replies "You must be mad. We have no son called David." Hagar "never told John … He kept on spinning his spider-webs, and I could never bring myself to say a word. Instead, I tried to show him I believed in him" (156, 157). When John is getting ready to leave for Manawaka, Hagar's pride - once again - keeps her from expressing herself properly. "I walked to the wrought-iron gate of Mr. Oatley's house with him, … wanting only to touch his brown impatient face but not daring to…" (167). Bram, being sick and near death, does not remember Hagar when he sees her. He says "Funny you put me in mind of someone ... Maybe - Clara. Yeh, her." Hagar's self-esteem is greatly hurt, for "The woman I reminded him of was his fat and cow-like first wife" (173). Just as she had done at the death of both her brothers and her father, Hagar remained stone-faced at the death of Bram. Perhaps she was too proud, or perhaps she had not loved him, but when Brampton Shipley passed away "it was John who cried, not I" (184). While at Shadow Point, Hagar falls and becomes "stuck … like an overturned ladybug…I hurt all over, but the worst is that I'm helpless. I grow enraged ... Perhaps the anger gives me strength ... Proud as Napoleon or Lucifer, I stand and survey the wasteland I've conquered. My bowel's knot, … That's the indignity of it" (191). Even in victory, she is unable to maintain her dignity. Once, when John had too much to drink and got in a fight, Arlene Simmons drove him home from a dance, in the middle of the night. Although John was pleased - that Arlene seemed to care for him - Hagar was very upset and she said "Yes, she did, and I can tell you I wasn't very proud of you, having her see you like that" (198). After hearing that both Telford and Lottie Simmons had been at the dance and had seen John, Hagar says "If you wanted to make it completely impossible for me ever to hold up my head again in this town, you've certainly succeeded" (199). Lottie always took great pride in her only child, Arlene. When thinking of the time that Lottie and Hagar are discussing the relationship between Arlene and John, Hagar remembers: "She preened a little, and glowed, mother of peacocks, queen-maker, Rapunzel's dam." (211) Just a couple hours before John's death, Hagar tries to explain to him how to keep his dignity, saying "In a place where everyone knows everyone else … you have to avoid not only evil but the appearance of evil" (238). After John dies, Hagar - once again - does not cry. She feels she must not only bear the pain alone, but that she cannot allow herself to be comforted by others. A matron had put her arm around her and said "Cry. Let yourself. It's the best thing." In response, Hagar remembers that "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 might cost me" (242). When she got home, Hagar found that she was not able to cry. "The night my son died I was transformed to stone and never wept at all" (243). Mistaking Murray F. Lees for John, Hagar forgets her usual arrogance and finally speaks the words that she never got to say before John died. "I reach out, almost amused at my timidity, and lightly place my fingers against his wrist … If there's a time to speak, it's surely now. … 'I didn't really mean it, about not bringing her here. A person speaks in haste. I've always had a temper… .' I've spoken so calmly, so reasonably. He can't in all conscience refuse what I've said…" (247). In a startlingly real moment of clarity, Hagar finally realizes her self-worth. "Hard to imagine a world and I not in it. Will everything stop when I do? Stupid old baggage, who do you think you are? Hagar. There's no one else like me in this world" (250). After Murray breaks his promise not to tell Marvin and Doris where Hagar is, the elderly lady's usual haughtiness returns. "…He is waiting for me to pardon him. I'm about to say the words - I know, I know, you really couldn't help it - it wasn't your fault. But these are not the words that come. 'Can't stop - ' The first I've spoken today, and my voice croaks. 'Born in us - meddle, meddle - couldn't stop to save our souls'" (252). Hagar, however, soon remembers the lengthy conversation they'd had the night before and is able to forgive Mr. Lees. "Impulsively, hardly knowing what I'm doing, I reach out and touch his wrist. 'I didn't mean to speak crossly. I - I'm sorry about your boy.' Having spoken so, I feel lightened and eased. He look surprised and shaken, yet somehow restored" (253). Sick with a serious disease and ordered to stay in bed, Hagar is still the proud woman she's always been. When a nurse finds Hagar trying to get to the bathroom on her own, the nurse tries to help Hagar, who reacts by saying "Oh, I hate being helped…I've always done things for myself" (276). When the doctor comes around and asks Hagar "how are we today…Not too bad, though, eh?" she lies, saying, "I guess not." She then realizes that this false pride is not going to help her in any way. "Suddenly, I'm furious at my pride and pretense…'It hurts…At night, it hurts so much…'" (277). Hagar, spending most of her time reflecting upon her life, sums up how her pride has influenced her life by saying "'Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear. I was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains within me, and they spread out from me and shackled all I touched. Oh, my two, my dead. Dead by your own hands or by mine? Nothing can take away those years" (292). This is a key passage in understanding Hagar's character at the end because this passage fully reveals how Hagar sees her life. While lying in bed, very close to death, Hagar reveals her feelings to Marvin with unprecedented honesty: "'I'm - frightened. Marvin, I'm so frightened-' …I think it's the first time in my life I've ever said such a thing" (303). Throughout her life, and unto the end, Hagar is too proud to ask for God's help. She begins to pray, thinking "Our Father - no. I want no part of that. All I can think is - Bless me or not, Lord, just as You please, for I'll not beg" (307). Hagar's fierce pride is shown for the final time when a nurse tries to help her drink some water. Hagar says "'Here, give it to me. 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 drink from this glass, or spill it, just as I choose. I'll not countenance anyone else's holding it for me … I wrest from her the glass, full of water to be had for the taking. I hold it in my own hands. There. There. And then -" (308)