The Stone Angel

by

Margaret Laurence

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The Stone Angel: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hagar wakes up in the morning, feeling just as ill as she did the night before. She has been covered by a shoddy tweed coat, and as she opens her eyes, she looks around for Murray, but finds that he is gone. Hagar feels “bereaved,” though she can’t remember enough of the previous night to recall why. As her thoughts “ramble from this to that,” she wonders whether Murray will come back for her. She feels faint and drained, and after a while, hears footsteps approaching. When the door opens, she turns her head to face it: Marvin, Doris, and Murray have all come for her.
Though Hagar has been terrified of being found and dragged back to Marvin and Doris’s, it’s clear that at this point their arrival is a rescue mission. Hagar is ill, weak, and infirm, and though she struggled to maintain her independence in the face of change, she has gone too far and as a result lost it forever.
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Marvin is relieved that they have found HagarDoris, though, is furious with the woman for throwing them into an “awful scare,” and says that when she went to the police to tell them Hagar had gone missing, “they looked at [her] in such a funny way, as though [she] should have taken better care.”
Doris, slightly selfish as always, is worried about how Hagar’s disappearance reflected on her—just as Hagar was always worried how Bram’s behavior made her look in the eyes of others.
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Marvin urges Doris to shut up—they need to take care of Hagar, who is clearly suffering from exposure. Marvin asks Hagar if she can understand him, but Murray interjects to tell him that Hagar is confused. As the three of them discuss what to do with her, Hagar admits to feeling a slight relief at seeing her son before her. At the same time, she laments having “grown so weak [that she] must rejoice at being captured.”
Hagar is both angry that she’s been found and relieved to be back with her son. She has come to realize that in order to survive she is going to have to sacrifice some of her agency—being alone and desperate in the wilderness is not so much a choice as it is a sentence.
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Murray offers to help Doris and Marvin take Hagar out of the cannery, but they tell him he can leave. Hagar allows Marvin to lift her to a standing position and take her slowly up the stairs and outside. In the car, Doris and Marvin swaddle Hagar in pillows and blankets and then begin driving. She asks them if they’re taking her straight to Silverthreads, but Marvin says it’s “too late for that”—she’s going to the hospital. Marvin at last tells her the truth about her X-rays. Hearing her diagnosis, Hagar is “repelled and stunned.”
Hagar worries that she is going to be taken to the nursing home, but then realizes that something even worse is in store. Her diagnosis—though never revealed to the reader—is serious enough to shock and upset Hagar even in her disoriented state, and as she prepares to enter the hospital, it occurs to her that she may never leave.
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Hours later, Hagar’s “world has shrunk.” She is on a public ward in a hospital, in a room full of at least thirty beds. Constant noise surrounds her as her fellow patients moan and shriek and nurses with trolleys and trays walk up and down the aisle, administering drugs and food to their patients. When a nurse brings Hagar her pills, she threatens to spit them out, but the nurse brusquely forces Hagar to swallow them down. As the lights go off and night descends, she can hear the noises of the other women: whimpering, snoring, praying, and singing.
Hagar hoped that in running away she’d free herself from being bound to the will of others. Now, in a dreadful public ward, Hagar is more alone, and in more difficult circumstances, than she would have been at Silverthreads.
Themes
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In the morning, a nurse rouses Hagar from sleep to take her temperature. As the kindly nurse ministers to Hagar, the old woman finds herself crying “shamefully” and uncontrollably. The nurse gives her some pain medication, and though Hagar tries to fall back asleep, she finds that she can’t.
Hagar is disoriented, upset, and ill, and it is as if the seal she broke back in the cannery by crying at last over John’s death has released a flood of torrential, unbidden emotions.
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The scrawny, small woman in the next bed engages Hagar in conversation, asking how she slept. Hagar replies that she couldn’t sleep “with all the moaning and groaning,” but her neighbor reveals that Hagar was the one “doing most of the talking,” and even got up from bed twice and had to be restrained by the nurses. When Hagar tells the woman she doesn’t believe her, the woman calls out to an obese lady across the aisle, Mrs. Reilly, who confirms that Hagar was up and down all night.
Hagar believed herself to be restless and half-asleep in her bed all night, but was really causing a ruckus that the whole ward observed. She is perhaps more disoriented than ever, and is beginning to forget or block out her own actions.
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Hagar still can’t believe that her neighbor is telling the truth, and asks who was singing in German all night. Her neighbor reveals that the German woman is Mrs. Dobereiner, who, despite her beautiful voice, often “gets pretty down” because she doesn’t speak much English and has trouble communicating with those around her.
The other women on the ward, though, are no quieter than Hagar, and are in at least as much emotional distress as she herself is presently.
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Hagar says she wishes Marvin had gotten her a semi-private room. Her neighbor reveals that she met Marvin yesterday, and remarks how nice it is that Hagar has a child to look after her—the neighbor has no children of her own, though she and her husband Tom have been married for over fifty years. Hagar’s neighbor asks her if her “man’s” name is John, as she cried the name out all night. Hagar turns her face away from the woman, and the neighbor apologizes for upsetting her. She introduces herself at last—her name is Mrs. Jardine. She attempts to gossip with Hagar about the other women on the ward, but Hagar begs to be left alone.
Hagar’s recently-accessed memories of John’s death seem to have affected her more than she realizes. Hagar’s neighbor is just trying to make small talk with her and even gossip a little, but when confronted with the depths of her pain—secret even to her—Hagar retreats into herself, seeking the isolation that has become so familiar over the years.
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Hagar naps, and wakes to find Marvin sitting beside her. Hagar is pleased to see him, and doesn’t mean to start complaining, but as soon as she opens her mouth she can’t help herself—she tells Marvin about the noises on the ward and begs him to look into a semi-private room. Marvin asks what else he can do for her, and Hagar asks to be brought her satin nightgowns, hairnets, and a perfume given her by Tina. Marvin asks if she wants any food from home, and when Hagar complains about the eggs and gelatin she’s served on the ward, Marvin explains that she’s on a soft diet because of her stomach. Hagar berates her doctor, calling him Doctor Tappen—Marvin reminds her that her doctor’s name is Corby, and Hagar is embarrassed.
Hagar is confused, disoriented, and agitated by her surroundings. Marvin is quick to ask Hagar to make a list of everything she needs, and clearly eager to make her as comfortable as possible. Her situation is worsening, even if she doesn’t yet know it.
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Hagar asks where Doris is, and Marvin explains that she’s had a “spell” and isn’t feeling well. He admits that he’s worried about Doris, as her heart isn’t so good anymore. Hagar is overcome with shame and fear that Doris will die before she does in an “unnatural” turn of events. Marvin bids Hagar goodbye and walks away, promising to look into a more private room.
Hagar has been so concerned about how Marvin and Doris have been treating her that she’s never stopped to think about her treatment of them has affected their lives.
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Hagar overhears a sweet visit between Mrs. Jardine and her husband Tom, and is surprised by how happily Mrs. Jardine speaks to him about life on the ward—she is happy about the food and the company. Soon, though, visiting hours are over, and as Tom leaves and the ward grows quiet, Hagar becomes aware that Mrs. Jardine is crying. Mrs. Jardine blows her nose, brushes her hair, and sings to herself, then takes out her teeth for the night, having snapped herself out of her sadness.
Mrs. Jardine is, like her fellow patients, sad and lonely, but knows how important it is to the others that she maintain her spirits and put on a brave face.
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Mrs. Jardine talks with Mrs. Reilly across the way about food, dieting, and youth. When Mrs. Dobereiner cries out for a pan, Mrs. Jardine flags down a nurse to help her, and then asks the same nurse to help her out of bed so that she herself can walk to the bathroom. The nurse asks Hagar if she needs a pan, and Hagar replies that when she feels the urge to go, she’ll walk herself to the bathroom like Mrs. Jardine, but the nurse insists that Hagar isn’t to get out of bed or go anywhere on her own. Hagar wonders how bad her condition really is.
Hagar is shocked to realize that she’s doing worse than the women surrounding her—their plight has seemed more dire to her, but just as she was unaware that she was crying out in the night, she is perhaps unaware of how her health measures up to theirs.
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When Mrs. Jardine returns, the women compare how long they’ve been on the ward—Mrs. Jardine has been here three months, but insists it’s not long at all compared to Mrs. Dobereiner, who’s been here for seven. Apparently, one of the German-speaking nurses has overheard Mrs. Dobereiner’s prayers each night: according to her, the woman “prays to pass on.”
Mrs. Dobereiner’s dark prayers reveal that for many, swift death with dignity is preferable to languishing alive but alone and in pain.
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As soon as the lights are out, the ward becomes a noisy place. Hagar goads a nurse into giving her more pain medicine to help her sleep. When Hagar wakes up in the middle of the night and tries to go to the bathroom on her own, the nurse insists on helping her walk. Hagar is reluctant to accept the nurse’s assistance, but the nurse urges her to think of the times in her life when she herself has “given a hand” to others, and accept now a hand in return. Hagar, though, “can’t think of many” she’s given a helping hand.
The idea of allowing herself to be helped—or of genuinely extending help, empathy, and love to another—is unthinkable to the slightly narcissistic Hagar, whose whole life has been a series of manipulations and maneuvers executed primarily in her own self-interest.
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The next day, Hagar receives visits from Doctor Corby, Doris, and Marvin. Doris brings her flowers to cheer her up, along with the other things she’s asked for. Doris and Marvin announce that Tina has called to say she’s going to be married. Hagar removes an old sapphire ring from her finger and urges Doris to send it to Tina as a present. She apologizes for not having given it to Doris herself years ago.
Hagar is learning to be a little less selfish. She even apologizes to Doris for not doing the right thing earlier—she is beginning to realize that in the time she has left, she might as well start to make things right.
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Related Quotes
Marvin tells Hagar that he’s arranged for her to move to a semi-private room. Rather than feeling relieved, though, Hagar experiences a “quick sense of loss” and begins to cry. Marvin asks if she’s changed her mind, and Hagar replies that she’s simply gotten used to the public ward. Depressed and agitated, Marvin laments that he can never keep up with Hagar, or do the right thing for her. Hagar says she’ll move, attempting to quell Marvin’s temper, but it’s too late—he and Doris are upset, and they leave. After they go, Hagar pretends to be asleep—though she can feel some nurses heaving her onto a large trolley and carting her away, out of the public ward and far from her friends.
This passage shows just how much tension and resentment there still is between Marvin and Hagar. He knows that his mother is near death, and is trying to do all he can to make things good for her even after all she’s put him through. Still, though, his efforts are never enough, and Hagar is always displeased. Hagar is embarrassed and ashamed of this fact, and decides to make Marvin happy even though it means saying goodbye to the tenuous connections she’s formed on the public ward.
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