The Stone Angel


Margaret Laurence

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The Stone Angel Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence had a painful childhood marked by loss. Her mother died when she was four, and her father when she was nine. She spent the rest of her childhood living with her stepmother and brother in her maternal grandfather’s home, and in the mid-1940s, left her hometown to attend Winnipeg’s United College. She published poems, stories, and essays throughout her collegiate career and edited the student literary journal. After graduation, she worked at a local independent newspaper until her marriage, at which point her husband’s engineering job took them overseas to England and Africa. She began a literary career in the 1960s, and soon thereafter separated from her husband. Newly independent and flourishing as a writer, Laurence traveled around Canada and held positions at the University of Toronto and Trent University. A deeply literary and left-leaning writer, Laurence’s works engaged the ethical failures of colonialism, the pain of loss, the indignity of aging, and the difficulty of domestic love—and were frequently set in a fictional town of her own making, Manawaka. The Stone Angel and The Diviners are loosely-related novels whose characters briefly overlap—both books are frequently cited as classics of Canadian literature, and yet are often banned from school curriculums. Laurence, having received a metastatic cancer diagnosis in 1986, committed suicide at her home in 1987, and was buried in her hometown of Neepawa. Her legacy and contribution to Canadian literature have been widely celebrated throughout the country, and several university buildings and lecture series have been named in her honor.
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Historical Context of The Stone Angel

Hagar, born in the late 1800s, comes of age and grows into womanhood and, eventually, old age over the course of the late nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth century. As such, she bears witness to several major historical moments. Because the book is mainly concerned with Hagar’s subjective life experiences, the hard facts of history mostly fade into the background—and yet Hagar, her family, and her town all feel acutely the effects of the Great Depression and the financial desperation it inspired all across the globe. In the novel’s present timeline, set in the early 1960s, Hagar must reckon with changing times and social and familial relationships. While families used to generally all live together in one home and support each other their entire lives, Hagar reluctantly comes to see that this dynamic is changing, and that the ways of the world are remarkably different than they were in her girlhood.

Other Books Related to The Stone Angel

In The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence brings to life a small Manitoba town called Manawaka. Based on her real-life hometown of Neepawa, Manawaka teems with very real problems related to class, tradition, and stifling interconnectedness. Laurence created the town for The Stone Angel, but returned to its setting in her subsequent novels and story collections A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers, A Bird in the House, and The Diviners. Laurence’s lyrical, detail-oriented, evocative prose is similar to that of Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping, Gilead) and her unsparing portrait of the beauty and difficulty of life in the Canadian countryside is echoed the 1941 novel As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross—also set in a fictional Canadian town.
Key Facts about The Stone Angel
  • Full Title: The Stone Angel
  • When Written: Early 1960s
  • When Published: 1964
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Canadian literature
  • Genre: Literary fiction; Canadian fiction; coming-of-age tale; historical fiction
  • Setting: The fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba
  • Climax: After running away, the elderly and ailing Hagar Shipley’s family finds her and brings her home—revealing in the process that she has stomach cancer, and will spend her final days in a hospital.
  • Antagonist: Brampton Shipley; Doris Shipley; Marvin Shipley; Time
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for The Stone Angel

Adaptable. The Stone Angel has been adapted for the screen and the stage. In 1995, Canadian playwright James W. Nichol adapted the story into a play, and in 2007, Canadian director, writer, and producer Kari Skogland filmed a movie adaptation starring Ellen Burstyn, Kevin Zegers, and Ellen Page.

Controversial. Though widely hailed as a classic of Canadian literature, The Stone Angel is frequently banned from school curriculums. Hagar’s irreverent, often vulgar voice, her disdain for religion and propriety, and her intensely sexual, tumultuous relationship with her husband Bram are just a few reasons young people are prevented from reading the novel. Despite the controversy surrounding it, many institutions in Canada assign The Stone Angel to older students in their final year of secondary school.