The Stone Angel

by

Margaret Laurence

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The Stone Angel: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Hagar sits with Doris in the waiting room at Doctor Corby’s office, its bare walls remind her of the old Shipley house in Manawaka. When Hagar moved in with Bram the walls were bare, and over the years she put up only a few pictures. Hagar’s favorite was a picture of a pair of horses, though she never cared for Bram’s real horses, a fact he teased her about for years. Bram had purchased a stallion and several mares from Henry Pearl in an attempt to “make a living,” but the “venture” never amounted to anything. Nevertheless, Bram loved the stallion deeply, and was devastated when the horse escaped one winter and died in a blizzard. In the spring, when the snow melted, Bram found the horse and gave him a proper burial—though he was sheepish and embarrassed about doing so.
This passage shows how the triggers that send Hagar reeling back into her deep memories of the past can be simple and banal. All it takes is one small reminder, and suddenly she finds herself reflecting on the often-painful memories of her misspent youth, and the embarrassments, indignities, and losses she and her husband suffered.
Themes
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
As Hagar, in the doctor’s office, remarks aloud on how few paintings there are—and how a man in the doctor’s position could “afford” to hang more paintings—Doris shushes her and begs her to mind her manners. Hagar is reminded of how she herself used to do the same to Bram during their marriage. Hagar is horrified at the thought that Doris must feel the same about Hagar as Hagar once felt about Bram, and resolves to keep quiet from now on—even though a part of her knows she won’t be able to keep her mouth shut and “never could.” Hagar’s name is called, and Doris takes her back to see the doctor. Doctor Corby examines Hagar and suggests she make an appointment to get some X-rays of her kidneys, gall bladder, and stomach.
Hagar has become the very thing she once loathed: she is crass, loud, and impervious to criticism, just like Bram always was. This fact briefly horrifies her, but Hagar is able to see clearly and even accept that she has changed, through the amassing of her life’s choices, in ways she never imagined she would.
Themes
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Choices and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Resentment Theme Icon
That night, after supper, Doris suggests they all go for a drive. Marvin and Doris tuck Hagar carefully into the back seat, bundle her up with pillows, and set off. Hagar is actually happy to be off on a drive, and she takes in the scenery and the cool evening breeze. Soon, though, her delight turns to horror as she spots the sign for Silverthreads—the nursing home from the newspaper advertisement. Hagar immediately panics, trying to open the car door while the vehicle is still moving. She wonders if Doris and Marvin will physically force her into the home and “make a madwoman” out of her. Marvin and Doris beg Hagar to calm down—they haven’t brought her here to stay, just to visit the facility. Hagar stops trying to get out of the car, but remains nervous and suspicious.
The painful and tense struggle between Hagar, Marvin, and Doris continues as the two of them escalate their methods from calm talk to decisive action. They want Hagar to understand that they’re only looking out for her best interest, and that her stubbornness and paranoia will only harm her further, but Hagar is so convinced that Marvin and Doris are trying to cheat her out of what little agency over her own life she has left that she can’t see their point of view.
Themes
Family, Love, and Resentment Theme Icon
Inside, the matron of the home shows Marvin, Doris, and Hagar around. She offers lovely descriptions of the activities and amenities provided to residents, but Hagar remains condescending and cynical, calling the rooms “barracks.” While Marvin and Doris meet with the matron privately in her office, a nurse takes Hagar out onto the verandah for a cup of tea. As she sits down and relaxes, “alone in a strange place,” she is reminded of the first time she was in a hospital—when Marvin was born. Hagar had wanted to have her child at home, convinced that the birth would kill her. Bram, though, drove her into town, excited and hopeful that they’d soon have a son—“somebody to leave the place to.” Hagar understood for the first time that Bram longed for a “dynasty,” just has her own father had in some ways.
Again, in this passage, a very small trigger—just a feeling—sends Hagar toppling back into her memories. As she goes deeper and deeper into the reverie, she’s no longer just remembering a parallel sensation from her youth, but begins thinking deeply about the ways in which her life, a constant search for agency and independence, has regularly been impeded by the desires of the men around her. After the actions of Jason and Bram, Marvin is just another man, she feels, with designs on her independence.
Themes
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Choices and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Resentment Theme Icon
Womanhood Theme Icon
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Now, on the verandah, an elderly woman in a pink cotton robe sidles up beside Hagar and begins speaking to her as if they’re old friends. Another woman soon comes up and explains that the first woman, Miss Tyrrwhitt, will talk at length to anyone who will listen. The second woman, Mrs. Steiner, sits down beside Hagar, and together they discuss their children. Hagar says that though she once had two boys, one “was killed—in the last war.”
More clues about the death of Hagar’s son John emerge—but because of Hagar’s disgruntled, disdainful state of mind and her apparent distrust of everything about the nursing home, including its kind residents, it’s hard to be sure whether she’s telling the truth.
Themes
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Womanhood Theme Icon
The two women discuss the nursing home, as well as aging more generally. Mrs. Steiner remarks how quickly life goes by, and Hagar is surprised by the woman’s wisdom. Hagar bids the woman goodbye hurriedly, though, and stands up to leave without having anywhere to go. She walks down off the porch and into the yard, walking without any sense of direction towards a small summer house in the distance. As she approaches the window, she sees a bearded man inside, and is reminded of Bram. She wonders if Bram has somehow traveled through time. When the man looks up, though, she sees that he is in fact elderly, and realizes she hasn’t left the Silverthreads property at all.
This passage—and Hagar’s confusion within it—suggest that Hagar’s dips into memory are not merely reminiscences or reveries: she is losing track of time, becoming disoriented more and more easily, and confusing the past with the present. This is dangerous, and even Hagar is disoriented and confused for a moment.
Themes
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Choices and Identity Theme Icon
Womanhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Doris comes running across the lawn towards Hagar, shouting about what a “scare” Hagar’s given her and Marvin. She points out that Hagar looks as if she’s been crying, but Hagar waves her away and insists on being brought home immediately. Together, they walk back to the car, and Marvin drives them all home.
This passage shows that though Doris has been set up as an adversary of Hagar’s, she really does care for the old woman, and wants her to be safe and healthy.
Themes
Family, Love, and Resentment Theme Icon