The Stone Angel

by

Margaret Laurence

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The Stone Angel: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hagar wakes in the darkness, feeling groggy. Rain is slanting into the room through one of the broken window panes, and Hagar is shivering with cold. She is overcome with pain and anxiety, but rather than getting up and risking falling, she forces herself to lie still and calm herself. She finds herself wishing that Bram were here to ward off any intruders, and listens intently through the darkness for any strange sounds. She knows that if trouble came and she cried out, no one would ever hear her.
Hagar’s first night at Shadow Point is an uneasy one marked by fear and restlessness. She wishes she weren’t alone, and even longs for Bram’s presence in the face of her fears of being attacked or hurt in this strange place.
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Hagar becomes irate and confused, berating herself for leaving home but also believing for several moments that she is back in her house with Marvin and Doris. She gets angry with them for trying to unseat her from her home, and feels her nausea intensify. She strains her ears, listening for the sound of Marvin and Doris moving around downstairs, but can’t hear them. She thinks angrily and sadly about how “every last one of them has gone away and left me.”
Hagar’s difficulty differentiating between what’s real and what’s imagined is exacerbated in her drowsy, confused state. It seems that her perception of the past, too, is altered and inaccurate—though she believes her family have all “gone away and left” her one by one, it’s clear that Hagar is the one who keeps doing all the leaving.
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Hagar recalls more of her time at Mr. Oatley’s. When John was old enough to go to college, Hagar couldn’t afford to send him—instead, Mr. Oatley got John an office job while Hagar invested some money in the stock market in hopes of making enough to send John off. When the stock market crashed in 1929, however, her shares became worthless, and the money was lost. John was angry and upset, and cruelly rejected Hagar’s suggestion that he apply for some scholarships. He explained that having already been out of high school for four years, it was “too late” for him to qualify for a scholarship. The two argued about John’s work ethic, and Hagar accused him of spending too much time with his wild friends.
This passage shows how John’s resentment towards Hagar—already stoked by her decision to move them away from Bram and Manawaka—became exacerbated by her loss of his college fund, though the financial downturn was not her fault or her choice.
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Eventually, Hagar and John committed themselves to working hard and saving money in pursuit of their common goal: to get John to college no matter what. As the Great Depression settled over the globe, however, John was let go from his job and had trouble finding another. He worked temporary jobs in factories for a couple of years before becoming indignant, and at last announced that he had decided to return to Manawaka, to the Shipley place, to try and find some work there. John admitted that he had been writing Bram secretly for some time, and that Marvin, too, had been in communication with their father. Hagar warned John that Bram only wanted him to come home to get even with her, but John darkly laughed and suggested that Manawaka might be “just the place” for him.
Factors beyond Hagar and John’s control continue to derail John’s hopes of ever getting to college. History repeats itself, as Matt’s resentment towards Hagar over her education comes around full circle through John’s resentment towards Hagar over her inability to provide him with the gift of his own education.
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John returned to Manawaka and wrote to Hagar only infrequently over the next two years, telling her little of his life there. One day, though, John wrote to tell Hagar that Bram had fallen ill, and might not last very long. Hagar left Mr. Oatley’s and went straight to Manawaka, arriving back at the Shipley farm in the middle of a terrible drought. The entire town was suffering, and “the upright men and the slouches” had all amounted to the same thing in light of the depression.
Even though Hagar hated Bram and left him behind without looking back, at the news that he might die soon, she immediately returns to Manawaka to say her goodbyes—and to comfort her favorite son.
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John picked Hagar up from the station and drove her back to the Shipley farm, which had fallen into terrible disrepair. Hagar felt her heart “break” at the sight of the place, but when she muttered about Bram’s laziness and failure to keep things up, John jumped to his father’s defense, citing his illness as the reason for the place’s slow demise.
The Shipley farm was always a step down for Hagar, but never an eyesore—returning to the place for the first time in years, she feels heartbroken to see how inaction has warped it, just as earlier in the novel she was stunned to see how her own inaction had taken its toll upon her.
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Inside the house, Hagar encountered a horrible, rancid smell—the kitchen was “a shambles,” and rotting food sat out all along the counters. The house looked terrible, and John himself looked thin and ragged with a face “like a skull’s.” Hagar noticed for the first time that John was drunk, and when she confronted him about it, he replied blithely that he and Bram had been making their own wine for years.
The situation at the Shipley place is indeed dire, and Hagar is horrified by what she finds there—squalor, poverty, and her own son turned skeletal and demented through abuse of alcohol.
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Hagar went into the front room to see Bram, and was shocked by how small and frail he’d grown. Bram’s eyes were milky and “absent of expression,” and he did not recognize Hagar upon seeing her. John entered the room announcing it was time for “medicine,” and put before Bram a huge glass of wine. Hagar, taking in the rotting house, her addled husband, and her drunkard son, became deeply upset, and begged John for an answer to what had happened here. John reassured Hagar that he knew what was best for him and Bram—and that she never had.
As Hagar realizes that Bram and John have been enablers in one another’s decline for years, Hagar sees how her own choices over the years have also snowballed to this moment. Just as her father’s attempts to keep her away from Bram only made her want him more, so too did her own attempts to keep her favorite son away from his father make him loathe her and idolize Bram to the point that he became lost in his father’s deteriorating world.
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Over the days that followed, Bram experienced only fleeting moments of clarity. During one, he remarked that he “should of licked the living daylights” out of his wife Hagar, failing to recognize her even as she stood right in front of him. Bram could only manage to observe that Hagar reminded him of someone—his first wife, the “cowlike” Clara.
Hagar is pained to find that not only can Bram not recognize her, and not only is he speaking ill of her, but the person she reminds him of was his plain, fat first wife.
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Hagar went into town with John to deliver eggs, and there they encountered a pretty but “silly” girl on the front steps of Currie’s General Store—John introduced the girl as Arlene Simmons, the daughter of Lottie and Telford. After Arlene walked away, Hagar inquired about the nature of their relationship—she overheard them talking about attending a dance together—and John snorted that Arlene would never marry a “Shitley.” When Hagar asked if John liked Arlene, John replied that he’d “lay her if [he] got the chance.”
With each day, Hagar becomes more and more aware of how much John has become the spitting image of Bram, both in terms of his low-class appearance and the way he speaks, thinks, and moves through the world. John even seems to take a perverse kind of pleasure in being branded a “Shitley,” and in transforming himself into an undesirable outsider.
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Another day in town, Hagar ran into Lottie on the street. Lottie said she was happy that Hagar had done well for herself in the end, becoming the companion of a well-to-do “export-import” man. Hagar was forced to admit that she was only Mr. Oatley’s housekeeper, further embarrassing herself. When Lottie asked why Hagar had returned to Manawaka, Hagar replied that Bram was dying, further deepening the conversation’s awkwardness.
Even though Hagar removed herself from Bram’s orbit and made a life for herself elsewhere, encountering Lottie still manages to make her feel embarrassed, awkward, and downtrodden.
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In Manawaka, John went out every night after dinner, and returned in his car-buggy only after daybreak. When Hagar called attention to John’s secretive behavior and asked what else she didn’t know about him, he revealed that he’d played dangerous games of chicken out on the railroad tracks with the Tonerre boys long after Hagar had told him not to, and that he’d sold the jackknife he got for Hagar’s family pin for cigarettes.
John continues his painful attempts to hurt Hagar through his words and actions, revealing that he defied her at every possible opportunity all throughout his childhood. Not only did he trade away her valuable family heirloom, but he even discarded the thing he traded it for without a second thought.
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One afternoon, Hagar asked John to drive her out to the cemetery so that she could see whether the Currie plot had been cared for. He reluctantly agreed, and when the two got there, Hagar found that the stone angel had toppled over on her face. John mocked the “old lady,” meaning the ange., but Hagar begged John to help her set the statue right. John begrudgingly struggled to right the statue, reminding Hagar of Jacob’s biblical struggle with an angel, and eventually got her upright, only to reveal that someone had painted the angel’s mouth and cheeks with “vulgar pink” rouge.
The defacement and in many ways the dethronement of the stone angel symbolizes Hagar’s own fall from grace, and the ways in which her own life had, at this point, careened far out of her control. John’s struggle with the angel is symbolic of his ongoing struggle with his own mother—a struggle of Biblical proportions (emphasized as well by both characters’ Biblical names).
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When the horrified Hagar asked who would do such a thing, John responded that the angel “look[ed] a damn sight better” for the makeup. Using John’s handkerchief, Hagar scrubbed the angel clean, afraid that her ruined visage would bring further shame upon Hagar and her family. On the way back to the buggy, Hagar asked again who could have done such a thing, and John replied, “some drunk.” Hagar, though, never believed him.
It is clear that John was the one who defaced and even upset the angel. Because the angel is Hagar’s silent, stony twin, his disregard for the angel symbolizes his disregard for his own mother, and his desire to topple her and make her pay for what he apparently perceived as slights against him or mistakes at his expense.
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Marvin came home for the holidays and urged John to return to the city to find work, but the two fought and squabbled as John insisted he’d prefer to stay in Manawaka. John mocked Marvin for his safe, cushy life, and Marvin denigrated John for his laziness, idleness, and sense of superiority towards work. John ended the argument by apologizing for his cruelty towards his brother, but also declaring that he was “through living in other people’s houses.”
John clearly resented the life Hagar made for him, even though she chose to take him away from Manawaka in order to pursue a better life for both of them. John wants to be completely dependent only on himself—foreshadowing, in a way, Hagar’s stubbornness in her own old age.
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One morning after Marvin had already left, John and Hagar found Bram dead in his bed—he’d died in the night, with no one beside him. Hagar, looking down at her husband’s body, thought that he “looked like the cadaver of an old unknown man.” Marvin sent money to cover the funeral expenses, but Bram’s own daughters didn’t even attend the service, angry that Bram hadn’t left the house to them. Hagar had Bram buried in the Currie plot, and carved the name Shipley into the namestone at the edge of it. When Hagar asked John if he thought that carving the Shipley name on the plot had been the right thing to do, John said that it had been—the families were “only different sides of the same coin.” Back at the house, Hagar did not shed one tear for Bram, though John wept bitterly.
Though Hagar always wanted to get away from her own family, when she married Bram she was taken aback when ties between her and the Curries were severed entirely. After Bram’s death, in choosing to list his family name on the stone marking the Currie plot, Hagar tries one last time to bridge the gap between the world she left behind and the world she made, however begrudgingly, with her husband. John, too, clearly believes that there was not as great a distinction between the two families as the Curries would’ve liked to believe.
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