The Stone Angel
The Stone AngelIntroduction
For Further Study
Although Margaret Laurence had been publishing fiction for a decade before The Stone Angel was published in 1964, it was this novel that first won her a wide and appreciative audience.
In ninety-year-old Hagar Shipley, the restless, crotchety, and proud protagonist, Laurence creates a memorable character who reveals what it is like to be very old, physically frail, dependent on others, and tormented by memories of the past. Laurence also movingly depicts the sudden dawning of realization in Hagar's mind of where she has gone wrong in life, and what has been the cause of her unhappiness. The novel suggests there is hope that even those most set in their ways can find the inspiration to change for the better, and that change, even at the last stage of life, is never wasted.
The Stone Angel is also a realistic portrayal of life in the prairie towns of western Canada from the late nineteenth century to the Depression of the 1930s and beyond. Laurence went on to write four more books set in the same region, and these, together with The Stone Angel, are collectively known as the Manawaka series. Critics regard the series as one of the finest achievements in contemporary Canadian fiction. The Stone Angel in particular has continued to win respect for its structure, in which present and past are interlinked, its language, which captures the forms of Canadian speech of the period, and the universality of its theme, which at its broadest is one character's search for self-understanding and redemption.
Margaret Laurence was born Jean Margaret Wemyss on July 18, 1926, in the small town of Neepawa, Manitoba, Canada, to Robert Wemyss and Verna Simpson Wemyss. Like Jason Currie, Hagar's father in The Stone Angel, Laurence's father was of Scottish protestant ancestry. And just as Hagar is raised without a mother, Laurence's mother died when Laurence was four. She was raised by her aunt, Margaret Campbell Simpson.
In 1944 Laurence won a scholarship to study English at United College in Winnipeg, where she published poetry and stories in the college paper. After graduation she worked as a reporter for The Winnipeg Citizen, and in 1949 she married Jack Laurence, a civil engineer. In 1950 her husband's work took him to the British protectorate of So-maliland (now Somalia) in Africa. In 1954, Laurence published a translation of Somali poetry, A Tree for Poverty. After living in Ghana from 1952 to 1957, the Laurences returned to Canada. Laurence's first novel, This Side Jordan (1960), and her collection of short stories, The Tomorrow-Tamer (1963) were both set in Ghana.
In 1962, Laurence separated from her husband and moved to England with her two children. Two years later, The Stone Angel was published. The fictional town of Manawaka in which much of the story takes place is based on the Neepawa of Laurence's childhood and youth. The Stone Angel was the first of five books by Laurence that have become known as her Manawaka series, which together create a realistic picture of the small Canadian town in the prairies from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s. The other four books are A Jest of God (1966), which won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and was adapted for the screen as Rachel, Rachel (1968); The Fire-Dwellers (1969); the semi-autobiographical collection of short stories A Bird in the House (1970), and The Diviners (1974). The Diviners was controversial, and in 1976 and 1978 attempts were made by religious conservatives to have it removed from the high school curriculum in Ontario.
In addition to the Manawaka novels that made her famous, Laurence wrote a critical work, Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952–1966 (1968), a memoir, and several novels for children, including Jason's Quest (1970), The Olden Days Coat (1979), Six Darn Cows (1979), and The Christmas Birthday Story (1980).
In 1969, Laurence became writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto, and in 1973, after accepting a similar position at the University of Western Ontario, she moved back to Canada permanently, settling in Lakefield, Ontario. In 1974, she became writer-in-residence at Trent University.
Laurence died of cancer on January 5, 1987.
Ninety-year-old Hagar Shipley, who lives with her son Marvin and his wife, Doris, reminisces about her childhood in Manawaka, a fictional town in western Canada. She grew up in a large house with a stern father, her brothers, Matt and Daniel, and the housekeeper, Auntie Doll. She recalls the day Daniel fell through the ice while skating. He was rescued but developed a fever and died.
The narrative returns to the present. Over tea, Marvin says he is considering selling the house and buying something smaller. Hagar insists that the house is hers. Marvin reminds her that she made it out to him when he took over her business affairs, but Hagar still regards it as her own.
Hagar is visited by the minister, Mr. Troy, but she has little patience with him. The narrative then returns to Hagar's youth. She recalls being sent to an academy for young ladies in Toronto. She hoped to become a schoolteacher, but her father insisted that she keep the accounts at his store. Hagar met Brampton Shipley at a dance, and married him against her father's wishes.
Back in the present, Hagar discovers that Marvin and Doris are planning to move her to a nursing home. Later, she reminisces again, this time about the death of her brother Matt, and how her father cut her out of his will.
After another episode in the present, in which it is clear that Hagar is forgetful and confused, she gazes at the photographs in her room. This prompts more reminiscence, of shopping trips with her husband, in which Bram's boorish behavior made her ashamed of him.
Marvin and Doris try to persuade Hagar that she will receive better care at the nursing home. Hagar wonders whether they will be able to force her to move.
In the doctor's office, Hagar recalls how Bram boasted about how successful he would be. He planned to switch from farming to raising horses, but he was not a good businessman and nothing ever came of his plans.
When Hagar sees Dr. Corby, she loathes the physical examination. After supper, Marvin and Doris take her for a drive in the country, but Hagar is alarmed when she discovers they are visiting the nursing home. While there, Hagar finds fault with everything. She meets two residents of the home, Miss Tyrrwhitt, whom she dislikes, and Mrs. Steiner, to whom she takes a liking. She also recalls the birth of her first son, Marvin, and for a moment thinks a man in the summer house is her late husband.
As she waits in the hospital for x-rays to be taken, Hagar returns to memories of her marriage. While her life was filled with household chores, her husband would often prefer to spend time duck-shooting or drinking.
The doctor recommends that Hagar be admitted to the nursing home, but she still resists. She recalls her second son, John, who used to get into fights at school and engaged in dangerous games with his friends. She recalls how, after watching Bram create an embarrassing scene in the store formerly owned by her father, she decided to leave him.
Back in the present, Marvin tells Hagar she must move into the nursing home in a week's time.
Hagar makes plans to flee before she can be taken to the home. Then the narrative returns to her decision to leave Bram, who had no objections to her departure.
Putting her plan of escape into action, Hagar cashes her old-age pension check, buys food supplies and takes a bus to a quiet place called Shadow Point. Once in the countryside she finds an abandoned building, near to the fish cannery, long since closed. It is in a valley near the sea. She inspects it with approval. Her new abode leads into another flashback, to her memories of her life after she left Bram, when she worked as a housekeeper for an elderly man, Mr. Oatley.
Hagar wakes in her makeshift home. She shivers in the cold as she lies on a mildewed, damp mattress.
The narrative goes back to Hagar's life during the Great Depression of the 1930s. John found it hard to find work, and returned to Manawaka to live with his father. Two years later, Bram became sick, and Hagar returned to live at the family home. Drought and economic depression had hit the region, and Hagar found their house in poor condition. Bram was so sick he did not recognize her, and it was John who cared for his father until his death.
Hagar wakes in the morning feeling sore. She drinks from a pail of rain water, and then walks down a path to the sea. She encounters two children playing, but when they see her they run away. She walks through a wooded area and rests on a fallen tree trunk, where she recalls her life with John after Bram died. Their relationship was a quarrelsome one. Eventually, when Hagar returned to Mr. Oatley's house, John refused to accompany her. Returning the following year, Hagar learned that John planned to marry Arlene Simmons. Ha-gar disapproved of the match.
The chapter ends in the present, with Hagar walking to the cannery.
Hagar explores the cannery and settles herself on some old boxes. A seagull flies around the room; Hagar throws a box at the bird, injuring it. At night, a man enters the cannery. He is Murray Lees, who says he has come to the cannery for some peace and quiet. As they drink the bottle of wine Lees has brought with him, Lees tells Hagar about how his son was killed in a fire at the family home.
The narrative returns to the past. Hagar relates how John and Arlene were killed when John bet his friend he could drive a truck across a railroad bridge. They were hit by a freight train. Hagar returned to Mr. Oatley's house.
In the cannery, Lees has been listening to her story and commiserates with her. They spend the night together, leaning against boxes. Lees comforts Hagar when she wakes up in the night sick.
In the morning, Hagar finds that Lees has gone. He returns with Marvin and Doris, who express relief that Hagar is safe. Suffering from exposure, Hagar is taken to the hospital, where she lies in a ward of about thirty women, complaining about the lack of privacy. At first Hagar dislikes the patients in the adjoining beds, but later finds she has something in common with Elva Jardine, who comes from a town close to Manawaka. They exchange news of people they knew. When Marvin and Doris visit, they tell Hagar that Tina, her granddaughter, is getting married. Hagar pulls a sapphire ring from her finger, and asks Doris to give it to Tina.
Hagar is moved into a semi-private room, which she shares with Sandra Wong, a sixteen-year-old girl who is to have her appendix out. Hagar tries to calm Sandra's fears. Doris visits with Mr. Troy. The clergyman sings a hymn, and the words make Hagar realize that her unhappiness in life has been caused by her pride. Later, she receives a visit from her grandson. In the night, Sandra is in pain. Hagar fetches a bedpan for her, struggling the few steps to the bathroom and back. A nurse arrives and is horrified to find Hagar out of bed, but when the nurse leaves, Hagar and Sandra laugh together about the incident. Marvin visits, and Hagar tells him he has always been good to her. Finally, Hagar, close to death, holds a glass of water in her hands and is ready to drink. The novel ends at this point.
Daniel Currie is the son of Jason Currie. He is four years older than his sister, Hagar. Called Dan by his family, he is delicate, lazy, and often in poor health. He dies at the age of eighteen of a fever after falling into an icy river.
Jason Currie is Hagar's father. He was born in Scotland to a good family but his father lost all his money in a business deal. Currie immigrated to Canada from the Scottish Highlands with nothing to his name. However, he worked extremely hard, and as owner of Currie's General Store in Man-awaka, he became wealthy. Stern, authoritarian, and a harsh disciplinarian, Currie prides himself on being a self-made man and he expects others to conform to the high standards he sets for himself. He is impatient with his sons, and refuses to let Ha-gar become a schoolteacher. He regards Hagar's husband, Bram, as lazy, and cuts Hagar off without a penny in his will. While stern at home, he is public-spirited, donating money for the building of a new church, and leaving all his wealth to the town.
Matt Currie is the first son of Jason Currie, and Hagar's brother. He works hard in his father's store but he is clumsy. Ambitious, he dreams of becoming a lawyer or buying a ship and entering the tea trade. He marries Mavis McVitie and moves away from Manawaka. He dies of influenza while still a young man.
Lottie Dreiser is Hagar's childhood friend. She was born out of wedlock and is mercilessly teased because of it. The boys call her "No-Name." Lottie and Hagar never really like each other. Lottie marries Telford Simmons and she meets Hagar again when Hagar pays her a visit to express disapproval of her son John's plans to marry Lottie's daughter, Arlene.
Thin, tiny, and old, Elva Jardine is a patient in the same ward of the hospital that Hagar is admitted to. She talks a lot and tries to befriend Hagar, who slowly warms to her.
Murray F. Lees
Murray F. Lees is a middle-aged man who goes to the fish cannery at Shadow Point to find some peace and quiet. He meets Hagar there and they share their experiences of life. Lees has worked for an insurance company for twenty years. He tells the story of how his son was killed in a fire at the family home when he and his wife were out at a meeting of the Redeemer's Advocate, a Christian sect that preached the end of the world was imminent.
Mr. Oatley is the owner of the house that Ha-gar lives in with her son John after she leaves her husband. He is a kind, elderly man, and Hagar is his housekeeper. When he dies he leaves Hagar some money in his will.
A big farm boy, Henry Pearl is one of Hagar's childhood friends. He marries and has three sons. He brings Hagar the news of John's accident and drives her to the hospital.
Mrs. Reilly is a patient in the hospital ward with Hagar. She is very large, and speaks in a melodious tone.
Bramford Shipley is a widower who marries Hagar. Bram is tall, black-haired, and bearded, and a good dancer, but he is also vulgar in speech and manner, and largely uneducated; he never reads a book. Fourteen years older than Hagar, he has two daughters, Jess and Gladys, by his previous wife, Clara, and he fathers two sons with Hagar. He has plans to prosper and start a business raising horses, but he is lazy and never applies himself consistently. Nor does he have a good head for business. Eventually he makes himself a laughingstock because his big plans never come to anything. However, Bram does not care what others think of him and he acquires a low reputation in Manawaka. On one occasion he is threatened with jail by a policeman for relieving himself on the steps of Cur-rie's General Store. Bram has more affection for his horses than for the people in his life. He is deeply affected by the death of his favorite stallion, Soldier, but cares nothing when his wife leaves him. Several years after Hagar's departure, Bram becomes sick, and his son John looks after him. When Hagar returns to live at his house, he is so ill he does not recognize her, saying only that she reminds him of Clara, his first wife.
Doris Shipley is Marvin's wife, and Hagar's daughter-in-law. In her early sixties, Doris has the principal responsibility for looking after Hagar. She finds this increasingly difficult, and takes every opportunity to point out, with as much tact as she can manage, that Hagar has become a burden. It is Doris who has to push Marvin into moving Hagar into a nursing home. However, while she is caring for Hagar, Doris fulfills her duty as well as she is able, and she finds comfort in religion. Hagar regards Doris as unintelligent and rarely has a good word to say about her.
- A version of The Stone Angel on audiocassette is available from Northwest Passages, 628 Pen-zer Street Kamloops, BC, V2C 3G5, Canada. Web site: www.nwpassages.com
Hagar Shipley is the ninety-year-old narrator of the novel. Irascible, uncharitable, and impatient with the faults of others, she fears that she is about to lose her independence by being placed in a nursing home by her son Marvin and his wife, Doris. Although tough-minded, she is physically frail, often in pain, forgetful, and confused. She speaks impulsively and sometimes regrets her harsh words even as she speaks them. She often surprises herself by crying without warning. Hagar lives as much in the past as the present. Her memories go back as far as when she was six years old, being brought up by her father, Jason Currie, a stern disciplinarian, who would on occasion beat her with a ruler or a birch twig. Hagar's mother died giving birth to her, and the female influence in the house came from the housekeeper, Auntie Doll. Although Hagar was brought up in a religious household, she has always been skeptical about religion. She re-ceived a good education at an academy in Toronto, and she prizes the ability to speak correctly, criticizing and correcting those who do not. As a tall, black-haired, handsome young woman she had pride and willfulness. She married beneath her, to the coarse Bram Shipley, in defiance of her father's wishes. After twenty-four years of marriage, during which she gives birth to two sons, Marvin and John, she once again asserts her independence by leaving her husband and taking a job in another town as a housekeeper. Although she dotes on her younger son, John, Hagar's negative attitude towards others eventually alienates him, and he returns to live with his father. Even as a ninety-year-old, Hagar retains her independence of spirit, fleeing her home and taking refuge in an abandoned building near the sea. But at the end of the novel she realizes that it is her pride that has stopped her from achieving happiness or peace of mind. Her son Marvin sums up Hagar's character when he calls her a "holy terror."
Jess Shipley is the daughter of Bram Shipley by his first marriage, to Clara. Hagar does not get along well with her, and they argue about where Bram should be buried.
John Shipley is Hagar's second son. He is nearly ten years younger than his brother Marvin, and is Hagar's favorite. Handsome, with straight black hair, John is inquisitive, a quick learner, and possesses a lot of energy. As a child he often tells lies and gets into fights at school. When he is a teenager he makes friends with the Tonnerre boys whom Hagar distrusts. As a young man, John tires of putting up with Hagar's negative frame of mind and returns to Manawaka to live with his father, Bram Shipley, whom he takes care of until Bram's death. John plans to marry Arlene Simmons but they are both killed after he takes on a bet that he can drive a truck across a railroad bridge. The truck gets hit by a freight train.
Marvin Shipley is Hagar's son, married to Doris. A plodding, unimaginative man of nearly sixty-five who has settled for a quiet, respectable life, Marvin makes a living selling house paint. He dislikes conflict and tries to keep the peace in the family, but he often feels caught between Doris and Hagar, who sometimes exchange sharp words. He has to summon all his courage to inform Hagar that she is being moved to a nursing home. Marvin was never very close to his mother as a boy. Hagar hardly regarded him as her own child, and he has none of her restless and cantankerous spirit. When he was seventeen, Marvin joined the army and fought in World War I. After the war he did not return to Manawaka but worked as a logger on the coast, and then as a longshoreman. He and Doris have a son, Steven, and a daughter, Tina. Hagar frequently thinks disparagingly of Marvin. In her eyes, he is a slow thinker who finds it difficult to express himself verbally.
Steven Shipley is Hagar's grandson. He is an architect and visits Hagar in the hospital. Hagar is fond of him.
Tina is Hagar's granddaughter who has recently moved out of the family home. She does not appear directly in the novel, but Hagar refers to her with affection.
Arlene Simmons is the daughter of Lottie and Telford Simmons. Fair-haired and pretty, she becomes the girlfriend of John Shipley, and they plan to marry. Arlene is killed along with John when the truck John is driving across a railroad bridge is hit by a train.
Billy Simmons is the owner of the funeral home in Manawaka when Hagar is a child. He is poor and has a reputation for drinking too much.
Telford Simmons is the son of Billy Simmons. As a boy he has curly hair and a slight stammer. Later he becomes a bank manager and mayor of Manawaka.
Mrs. Steiner is a talkative resident of Silver-threads Nursing Home. Hagar meets her when she visits the home.
Auntie Doll Stonehouse
Auntie Doll, a widow, is Jason Currie's housekeeper while Hagar is growing up. She takes care of the three Currie children, acting as a surrogate mother.
A doctor's daughter, Charlotte is Hagar's best friend when they are children. She and her mother put on a wedding reception for Hagar.
The Tonnerre boys are three brothers who become friends with John Shipley. Their father, Jules, was friends with Matt Currie. The Tonnerres are "half-breeds," a mixture of French Canadian and Indian blood.
Mr. Troy is a young clergyman who visits Ha-gar several times at the request of Doris. He attempts to chat politely, but Hagar is impatient with his religious platitudes.
Sandra Wong is a sixteen-year-old girl of Asian ancestry. She shares a room in the hospital with Hagar, and undergoes surgery for the removal of her appendix.
The dominant theme of The Stone Angel is that of pride. As Hagar herself realizes in a moment of insight near the end of the novel, "Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear." By pride, Hagar means a number of related qualities, such as stubbornness, rebelliousness, willfulness, and a refusal simply to respond naturally to her own feelings. Pride made her cover up her real emotions and reactions to people and events. She was always too concerned with what others would think. In old age she says, "What do I care now what people say? I cared too long."
The novel is strewn with examples of Hagar's pride. As a girl, she refuses to cry when she is whipped by her father, and he grudgingly admits she has "backbone." As a young woman, she is unbending. When her dying brother Dan, delirious, calls out for his deceased mother, Matt tries to persuade Hagar to don her mother's old shawl and pretend to be her, in order to comfort her brother. But Hagar, although she wants to, cannot bring herself to do this. She cannot bear to imitate the frailty of the woman who died giving birth to her, because she prides herself too much on her own strength. Later, pride also stops Hagar from enjoying sexual relations with her husband. She never lets him know when she feels pleasurable sensations, because she is ashamed of such feelings. "I prided myself on keeping my pride intact, like some maidenhead," she says.
Hagar is very concerned about keeping up appearances in front of other people. She is always aware that she received an education at a private academy and therefore knows how to behave. She looks down on those who do not speak or behave well, and this includes her own husband. She refuses to go to church after Bram has embarrassed her there with his rude comments. And in old age Hagar recalls how on countless occasions she would say to Bram, "Hush. Hush. Don't you know everyone can hear?"
Hagar's pride also results in the suppression of her real feelings. When her son John dies, she refuses to cry in front of the nurse; she will not allow a stranger to see her emotions. But then when she is alone, she finds that she is unable to cry at all. Similarly, she will not show her emotions to her first son, Marvin, when he departs to fight in World War I: "I wanted all at once to hold him tightly, plead with him, against all reason and reality, not to go. But I did not want to embarrass both of us, nor have him think I'd taken leave of my senses."
The indignities, infirmities, and fears associated with old age are continually present in the novel. Hagar must bear many things. Her memory, although razor-sharp when she recalls the events of her youth and middle age, falters when it comes to the immediate past. She forgets, for example, that her granddaughter, Tina, left the home more than a month ago, and asks Doris whether she will be home for supper. She confuses the name of her doctor with that of the doctor who practiced in Manawaka when she was a child.
Hagar has many physical problems, including an unexplained pain under her ribs which is sometimes so severe it takes her breath away. She falls frequently and also suffers from constipation and incontinence. Unaware of the latter, she accuses Doris of making it up. Her physical problems and senility have made her a danger to herself, although she does not know this until Marvin points out that one night she left a cigarette burning and it fell out of the ashtray. When Marvin and Doris tell Hagar they plan to get a sitter so they can go out one evening, she reacts so angrily to the notion that, like a child, she needs a sitter, that they change their minds about going out.
In her old age, Hagar dislikes her appearance. She regards her overweight, unreliable body with disgust, and as she glances sideways in a mirror she sees:
[A] puffed face purple with veins as though someone had scribbled over the skin with an indelible pencil. The skin itself is the silverish white of the creatures one fancies must live under the sea where the sun never reaches. Below the eyes the shadows look as though two soft black petals had been stuck there. The hair which should by rights be black is yellowed white, like damask stored too long in a damp basement.
As a consequence of her pride, Hagar has cut herself off from the natural flow of human sympathies. In her old age, trapped in her own negative perceptions and long habits of mind, she is unable to relate harmoniously with others. She is suspicious of people's motives and rejects their attempts to be pleasant. Sometimes she would like to be more reasonable, but a bitter or sarcastic remark will escape her mouth instead, in spite of herself. Hagar's extreme alienation, the product of a closed heart, sometimes produces unexpected effects. Because she rejects others, she expects them in turn to reject her, so a simple act of kindness from someone else may produce a sudden burst of tears, as when a girl gives up her seat for Hagar on a bus.
Hagar's alienation finds expression in her attitude to religion and to God. She never declares herself to be an atheist, but she has no belief that the universe is under the care of a loving God. She admits to Mr. Troy, the minister, that she has never been able to pray, and she pours scorn on the lit-eralistic Christian picture of heaven: "Even if heaven were real, and measured as Revelation says, so many cubits this way and that, how gimcrack a place it would be, crammed with its pavements of gold, its gates of pearl and topaz, like a gigantic chunk of costume jewelry." Nor does Hagar accept the religious belief that everything that happens in life is for the best: "I don't and never shall, not even if I'm damned for it."
Towards the end of the novel, Hagar makes two small but significant steps that lessen her alienation. She tells Marvin that he has always been good to her, because she senses that that is what he needs to hear; she no longer thinks entirely of her own needs. And though it costs her considerable effort, she fetches a bedpan to ease the discomfort of Sandra Wong, her sixteen-year-old fellow patient in the hospital.
The present-day setting of the novel, in an unnamed town in Canada, is unremarkable, but Hagar's memories of Manawaka over the years presents a rich portrait of small-town western Canada in the early days of settlement and in the Depression era.
Topics for Further Study
- Research the topic of elder care. What are some typical problems that arise when people care for an elderly parent, and how are these shown in The Stone Angel?
- Investigate the aging process and how it affects short-and long-term memory. How are these changes reflected in The Stone Angel?
- Research the history of Manitoba and describe how it was affected by the Great Depression in the 1930s. How accurately is this reflected in what happens to Manawaka in The Stone Angel?
- Describe your response to Hagar Shipley. Does your reaction to her change during the course of the novel, and if so, in what way?
While Hagar is a child, Manawaka is just being established. Hagar's father built the first store in the town, and the house Hagar grows up in is only the second brick house to be constructed in Manawaka; most of the other houses are still poorly built shacks and shanties. Early Manawaka is bleak and isolated. Hagar describes the immediate environment: "the bald-headed prairie stretching out west of us with nothing to speak of except couch-grass or clans of chittering gophers or the gray-green poplar bluffs." It is a harsh, unforgiving en-vironment, in which the temperature in winter sometimes drops to forty degrees below zero.
There are many glimpses of life as it was lived in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In the absence of modern techniques of refrigeration, for example, Manawaka has a town icehouse, where ice blocks cut from the river in winter are stored all summer under sawdust.
Manawaka is a farming community, and in the 1930s there is a drought which has a devastating effect on the town. Machinery stands idle and rusting, and the whole environment presents a sad sight:
The prairie had a hushed look. Rippled dust lay across the fields. The square frame houses squatted exposed, drabber than before, and some of the windows were boarded over like bandaged eyes. Barbed wire fences had tippled flimsily and not been set to rights. The Russian thistle flourished, emblem of want, and farmers cut it and fed it to their own lean cattle.
Point of View
The novel is written in the first person, and is narrated by Hagar. This means that everything is seen from her point of view. It is her thoughts, memories, and impressions that make up the novel; there is no direct information about what other characters are thinking and feeling. They must be understood by their words and actions as Hagar reports them. Of course, Hagar is often a biased witness. It is clear that Marvin and Doris, as they try to do what is best for Hagar, are worth more than the contempt that Hagar heaps upon them.
The limitation of the first-person point of view is that it can only relate events in which the narrator is a direct participant. In The Stone Angel, the author overcomes this limitation on several occasions by having Hagar overhear conversations between others. One example is when she takes some family treasures to Jess, her husband's daughter by his first marriage. She stops outside the kitchen and overhears a conversation between Jess and John, Hagar's son.
The narrative weaves back and forth between the present and the past through the technique of the flashback. Usually, the transition is prompted by something in the present that triggers Hagar's memory. For example, the nursing home she is taken to visit reminds her of a hospital, which prompts a reminiscence about the birth of her first son.
Hagar's memories are presented in chronological order. Many critics found fault with this aspect of the novel, pointing out that memories are more random and haphazard; they do not usually occur strictly in chronological order. Laurence was aware of this problem. She wrote in an essay, "Gadgetry or Growing: Form and Voice in the Novel":
In some ways I would have liked Hagar's memories to be haphazard. But I felt that, considering the great number of years these memories spanned, the result of such a method would be to make the novel too confusing for the reader. I am still not sure that I decided the right way when I decided to place Hagar's memories in chronological order.
The imagery in the novel is frequently drawn from the animal world. Often this is used by Ha-gar to present a person in an unflattering light. One of Hagar's main targets is Doris, "who heaves and strains like a calving cow"; or is seen "puffing and sighing like a like a sow in labor." Doris gapes at Marvin "like a flounder"; her voice squeaks "like a breathless mouse."
Sometimes this type of simile is used to comic effect, as when Hagar recalls that her husband "used to snort and rumble like a great gray walrus." Sometimes it is directed at Hagar herself, as when she describes herself as a "fenced cow meeting only the barbed wire whichever way she turns," or when she glares at the doctor "like an old malevolent crow, perched silent on a fence."
The recurring bird imagery sometimes acquires symbolic importance, as when Hagar injures a sea gull and it lies on the ground beating its wings helplessly. The sea gull symbolizes Hagar's own state of non-freedom. The bird batters itself "in the terrible rage of not being able to do what it is compelled to do," an apt description of the reality of Hagar's life, in which her desire to live independently, which her pride demands, is no longer possible.
Another symbol is the stone angel that stands over the family plot at the Manawaka cemetery. The novel opens with a description of how this white marble statue was brought from Italy by Hagar's father at great cost. It dwarfs all the other monuments in the cemetery, and is a symbol of her father's pride, which Hagar inherited.
The stone angel also symbolizes Hagar herself. Like stone, Hagar is hard and will not bend. When her son dies, she is "transformed to stone" and can-not weep. Like the stone angel, which was carved with blank eyeballs, Hagar is blind, in that she can view things only from her own self-centered point of view. She lacks insight into herself.
An Authentic Canadian Literature
Laurence once declared that Canadian literature came of age around the time of World War II. It was then that Canadian writers ceased to look to British or American writers for models, but created stories based on Canadian themes and Canadian identity, using specifically Canadian language. One notable example was Sinclair Ross, whose novel As for Me and My House (1941) is set in a prairie town during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Laurence, who thought of herself as a prairie writer, acknowledged Ross's work as an influence on her own.
Laurence also named Hugh MacLennan as belonging to that first generation of Canadian-inspired writers. MacLennan's first novel was published in 1941, and he is also noted for his strong sense of place and Canadianness.
Laurence placed herself among the second generation of these specifically Canadian writers, but commented that during the 1960s and 1970s, which includes the time when The Stone Angel was written, it was still a struggle for such writers to gain appreciation. She said in an interview with Alan Twigg in 1981, "[I]n those days we never valued what we had as a nation. For instance, when I was in high school we never read one Canadian book. Then at university I studied the contemporary novel but all the writers were American. This was when Hugh MacLennan and Gabrielle Roy were writing some of their finest work."
Compare & Contrast
- 1890s: Presbyterian clergyman Ralph Connor, one of the earliest of Canadian writers of the West, writes best-selling novels that draw on his Scottish heritage.
1940s: Distinctive Canadian fiction, celebrating Canadian identity, begins to emerge in the work of Sinclair Ross and Hugh MacLennan.
1960s: Margaret Laurence writes most of the Manawaka series.
Today: Canadian writers such as Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are in the forefront of world literature.
- 1890s: The economy in Manitoba is based on agriculture, with manufacturing and transportation later becoming important.
1930s: One out of every four workers is unemployed, and Manitoba is devastated by drought.
Today: Agriculture remains the backbone of rural Manitoba, where wheat is the most important crop, followed by barley and canola.
- 1890s: Educational opportunities for women are very limited. Like Hagar Shipley, women typically work unpaid in the home, looking after the children and performing household tasks.
1930s: Fewer than four percent of Canadian women work outside the home.
1960s: The women's movement emerges, calling for equality with men.
Today: Over ten percent of women in Canada hold a university degree. Women make up more than fifty-three percent of full-time undergraduate students at Canadian universities, and account for forty-five percent of the Canadian labor force. However, in many jobs they continue to earn less than men.
By the 1980s, this had changed. In the same interview, Laurence said, "Now there's a whole new generation of Canadian writers who can almost take this 'valuing' of ourselves for granted. I like to keep reminding them that we owe a lot to that generation of writers before me. They worked in terrific isolation. A book wasn't considered any good if it didn't get a seal of approval in London or New York."
The Origins of Manawaka
The Canadian quality of Laurence's work is most noticeable in the flashback portions of The Stone Angel that take place in the fictional town of Manawaka. Manawaka is based on Neepawa, the prairie town in southern Manitoba that Laurence grew up in during the 1930s.
Neepawa was established in the late nineteenth century by Scottish settlers who made their way west from Ontario. The first general store was built in 1880 (in the novel, Jason Currie builds the first general store in Manawaka), and the decision of the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway to build a station in Neepawa ensured that the town would flourish. Laurence's own grandfather was the lawyer who incorporated the new town in 1883. The population then was 308.
Although Laurence commented that Manawaka is an amalgam of many prairie towns and is not to be wholly identified with Neepawa, two Manawaka landmarks which appear in The Stone Angel do have their real-life counterparts. Neep-awa's Whitemud River, where Laurence skated as a child, becomes in the novel Wachakwa River, where Hagar's brother Dan falls through the ice. And the cemetery on the hill where the stone angel stands is based on the Riverside Cemetery in Neepawa.
Early Neepawa, like Manawaka, was a close-knit community steeped in its Scottish Presbyterian heritage that emphasized hard work and religious faith. In the novel, this heritage is embodied in Jason Currie, who was born in the Highlands of Scotland. Like many of the early settlers of Neepawa, he made his way from Ontario without a penny to his name, hoping for a new beginning in the West. Hagar recalls the "Scots burr" of his voice, and the rigid work ethic to which he adhered. Currie, who never missed a church service, embodied the qualities of self-reliance, self-discipline, orderliness, social conservatism, and dour, Calvinist religious faith that characterized these settlers of the Canadian west.
Such hardiness of body and soul served Neepawa well in the early days. By the mid-1890s the town was thriving. The area was a wheat-growing region—Neepawa is a Cree Indian word meaning "land of plenty"—and Neepawa served as an agricultural trading center. In The Stone Angel, a few years after Hagar marries, "all the farms had bumper wheat crops … the Red Fife growing so well in the Wachakwa valley." Local industries in Neepawa included lumber milling, farm equipment manufacturing, and dairy goods production. In the novel, Hagar sells eggs for extra income to the Manawaka Creamery and to town families.
When The Stone Angel was first published in 1964, most reviewers recognized it as a major achievement. Robertson Davies, in The New York Times Book Review, praised Laurence's insight into character as well as her "freshness of approach … her gift for significant detail." The most notable quality of the novel, according to Davies, is "her form and style…. She has chosen to relate the story of Hagar in a series of flashbacks, and in the work of writers whose sense of form is defective this device can be wearisome and confusing. Mrs. Laurence slips in and out of the past with the greatest of ease, without arousing any doubts of chronology." Davies also admires the language of the novel, its "good firm vocabulary, congruous with the mind of Hagar herself." Honor Tracy, in New Republic, bestowed equally high praise: "It is [Laurence's] admirable achievement to strike, with an equally sure touch, the peculiar note and the universal: she gives us a portrait of a remarkable character and at the same time the picture of old age itself." A reviewer for Time described The Stone Angel as "one of the most convincing—and the most touching portraits of an unregenerate sinner declining into senility since Sara Monday went to her reward in Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth."
One of the few dissenting voices was an anonymous reviewer for London's Times Literary Supplement, who wrote: "It is a bleak, forbidding book. The life-denying qualities of the character which dominates it spread a chill over its pages, and in choosing to tell the story in the first person—a vast, senile soliloquy—Mrs. Laurence puts a strong check on her genuine creative gifts."
More than any other single work, The Stone Angel established Laurence's reputation not only in her native Canada but in the United States and internationally. The novel has stood the test of time. In 1981, Patricia Morley, in her book Margaret Laurence, referred to it as "Laurence's best known and most deeply respected work, a novel hailed as a Canadian classic."
The portrayal of the character of Hagar has generally been the most admired aspect of the novel. William New, in the introduction to the 1968 edition of the book, wrote: "So sympathetically has Margaret Laurence created Hagar that we see the world through her. In following the track of her mind as it travels back and forth in its personal narrative, we are moved—not only with her, but also by her—and we come at least to understand a little more about being alive."
More recent critics have explored The Stone Angel from a number of different angles. Feminist critics have been attracted to it because of the strong character of Hagar. Brenda Beckman-Long, in "The Stone Angel as a Feminine Confessional Novel," has identified the novel as a "feminine confessional narrative that gives voice to a peculiarly feminine experience." Helen M. Buss, in Mother and Daughter Relationships in the Manawaka Works of Margaret Laurence, has taken the approach of archetypal criticism, examining the novel in terms of the mother archetype as first identified by Carl Jung: "As Hagar moves toward the unconsciousness of death she reaches for acceptance of the mother on three levels: her memory of the personal mother; the rescue of her own repressed feminine self; and the experience of the numinosity of the Great Mother."
In addition to the accolades of critics, The Stone Angel has had an influence on later Canadian writers. David Staines, in his essay on Laurence in Dictionary of Literary Biography, points out that writers such as Jack Hodgins and Dave Godfrey saw in Laurence a model for what they were trying to achieve in their own work: "Hodgins acknowledges the importance of the novel as the first he read with a voice and a world directly related to his western sympathies."
Because of its compelling portrait of the problems associated with old age, The Stone Angel has also been used as a training text in geriatric nursing schools.
Aubrey holds a Ph.D. in English and has published many articles on twentieth-century litera-ture. In the following essay, he explores the spiritual journey of Hagar Shipley in The Stone Angel.
Poor Hagar Shipley. Unreconciled to old age and approaching death, relentlessly critical, unable to reach out to others, always ready to think the worst of people, Hagar is a stone angel indeed. Imprisoned in her own mind, she is unable to bring light to herself or to those around her. However, although the weight of the novel is on the negative aspects of Hagar's behavior, she eventually goes some way towards breaking down the walls she has built around her, and finding redemption.
The word redemption is appropriate because there are biblical echoes that suggest the novel may be interpreted as a spiritual journey. In an interview with Rosemary Sullivan, Laurence commented, "My novel in some way or other parallels the story of the Biblical Hagar who is cast out into the wilderness…. The natural frame of reference [is] the Biblical one."
In Genesis, Hagar is an Egyptian slave who bears a son to Abraham, then quarrels with Abraham's wife, Sarah, and is temporarily cast into the wilderness. The story is turned into an allegory by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (4:22-31), in which Hagar represents bondage to the flesh, without the knowledge of divine grace, whereas Sarah represents freedom.
Seen in this light, Hagar in The Stone Angel is a wanderer in exile, cut off from the experience of connection to God and to others. Her task, although she may not consciously realize it, is to break out of her isolation, to return to true human community that will take her beyond the confines of her own skin.
Hagar's difficult, halting spiritual journey begins about halfway through the novel, when she concocts a hare-brained scheme to thwart Marvin and Doris's plan to put her in a nursing home. She flees to a quiet place in the country. As she sits down on a toppled tree trunk she realizes that she likes this spot in the open air and muses, "Perhaps I've come here not to hide but to seek. If I sit quietly, willing my heart to cross over, will it obey?"
This is the most urgent question for Hagar to consider. Although consciously she may be referring to her own demise, her heart must "cross over" in another sense—to express compassion for others—before she can reach the safe oblivion of death. Only then will she have learned the lesson of how to live in freedom.
These lessons initially come to her obliquely through several incidents involving the natural world. As she looks down at the moss-covered tree trunk on which she sits, Hagar notices some fungus, "the velvety underside a mushroom color," and reaches down to touch it. She finds that "it takes and retains my fingerprint." After a long reverie, she comes to herself and finds that she is holding "a hairy slab of coarse moss in one hand." At her feet, a "blind slug hunches itself against one of my shoes." In these small symbolic ways, Hagar is reconnecting herself to life through the forms of the natural world.
Shortly after this, when she takes shelter in an abandoned fish cannery, Hagar notices half a dozen june bugs at her feet. They are dead, but they retain their natural beauty: "Their backs are green and luminous, with a sharp metallic line down the center, and their bellies shimmer with pure copper. If I've unearthed jewels, the least I can do is wear them." She arranges the june bugs in her hair, looks into her purse mirror and finds the effect pleasing: "They liven my gray, transform me."
The effect is rather like the garland of flowers that adorns the head of Shakespeare's King Lear, when he too goes through a painful experience of spiritual rebirth. Significant also is the fact that in order to put the bugs in her hair, Hagar must first remove the "prim domestic hat sprouting cultivated flowers" that she is wearing. She casts off the artificial in favor of the natural. This positive step harks back to the beginning of the novel, when in the description of the neatly kept cemetery, the artificial, civilized world of Manawaka's respectable citizens is contrasted unfavorably with the wild freedom of nature. The "wild and gaudy flowers" that grow untended, and have always done so, are more alluring than the "pompous blossoms" of the "portly peonies" that have been planted there. Man's desire to control his environment, to be "civilized" and orderly, leads only to rigid conformity and repression of the natural impulses of life.
Another moment of catharsis arrives when Hagar, still in the fish cannery, relates to Murray Lees, her unexpected visitor, the story of the death of her son John. She finds herself weeping over an event that took place over thirty years ago, something she was unable to do at the time. It is clear that Hagar is on a painful road of healing by coming to terms with her past and her true feelings.
When Hagar enters the hospital, her world shrinks to a single hospital ward, then to a semi-private room. She makes a dark joke about the next room (her coffin) being the smallest of all. And yet as her outer world shrinks, her inner world, painfully, in fits and starts, begins to expand.
But progress is slow. When Marvin visits, Hagar is surprised at how pleased she is to see him, but is unable to tell him so. What comes out of her mouth instead is a long list of complaints. A short while later, she complains about the bland diet she had been put on. But this time she is more reflective, wondering why she always needs someone to blame when things are not as she thinks they should be. Then in another moment of calmness she realizes that Marvin is concerned about Doris's health problems simply because he is fond of her. Hagar knows that this is only natural, "But it seems unfamiliar to me, hard to recognize or accept."
Another significant moment comes in the hospital ward. Initially, Hagar loathes being there, but eventually she discovers that Elva Jardine, the patient in the adjoining bed, comes from a town close to Manawaka, and they have some acquaintances in common. The fact that when Hagar is moved to a semi-private room she feels a sense of loss, as if she has been cast out, suggests that her brief friendship with Elva has served as a reminder of the links formed by human community, the barrier such community erects against the utter solitude of each human life.
Hagar also finds it in herself to recognize the links between generations. In an act of sudden generosity, she gives her mother's sapphire ring, which means a great deal to her, to her granddaughter.
There is nothing sentimental in any of these small steps that Hagar takes toward freeing herself from her mental prison. For most of the time, she remains her usual crotchety, unregenerate self. A few moments after giving the ring, she gets impatient and regrets her generosity. Never for a moment does the novelist imply that transformation is easy, or that the long habits of the past can simply be discarded without a trace.
Whatever are the forces that are gathering to aid Hagar in these last days of her life—and the agnostic Hagar would not be one to speculate—they finally produce a moment of self-realization. As Mr. Troy, whom she has always ridiculed, sings a hymn to her about rejoicing, she realizes that that must be what she has always wanted to do, but has never been able:
Every good joy I might have held, in my man or any child of mine or even the plain light of morning, of walking the earth, all were forced to a standstill by some brake of proper appearances…. When did I ever speak the heart's truth?
Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me on 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 that I touched.
This realization is bitter because Hagar knows that nothing can erase the errors of the past. But it is a breakthrough nonetheless.
Hagar's redemptive journey culminates in two incidents. First, she befriends Sandra, a sixteen-year-old girl who shares Hagar's hospital room. When Sandra needs a bedpan in the middle of the night, and cannot summon a nurse, Hagar struggles the few steps to the bathroom to fetch it for her. She shuffles and lurches, gets out of breath, almost falls, and ignores stabs of pain. But she is determined to succeed. Nothing compels her to do this, other than concern for another person. After a nurse arrives and reproaches her, Hagar and Sandra laugh together over the incident. As Patricia Morley points out in Margaret Laurence, the pronoun "we" occurs four times in as many lines (such as "Convulsed with our paining laughter, we bellow and wheeze. And then we peacefully sleep") which makes it clear that at least for a moment, Hagar has overcome her sense of separation from others.
The second incident is a moment of rare intimacy between Hagar and Marvin. Her son apologizes for being impatient with her and clasps her hand. Hagar realizes what he needs to hear and tells him that he has always been good to her. She is at last able to see a situation from a point of view other than her own, understanding that "I … can only release myself by releasing him."
Later Hagar decides that these two acts—helping Sandra and comforting Marvin—are the only two free acts she has performed in all her ninety years of life.
As the novel closes, there are hints of metamorphosis. Earlier images of Hagar in the hospital suggest entrapment: she is caught "like a fish in a net"; she feels "like a trussed fowl." But now she lies in a "cocoon," which suggests the possibility of transformation, of rebirth.
Another hint of a subtle alteration in Hagar's condition is the cluster of references to angels. Ha-gar's words to Marvin quoted earlier allude to the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel and demanding a blessing. Hagar views Marvin as Jacob and acknowledges that she is casting herself strangely as the angel. A flashback follows in which Hagar recalls a visit to the cemetery where the stone angel presides over the family plot. Then she speculates about whether life in another realm after death will be surprising in ways that she cannot imagine, just as a newborn baby must be surprised when he discovers that life on earth requires him to breathe. "If it happened that way, I'd pass out in amazement. Can angels faint?" Hagar asks herself, a question which seems to associate her at long last with the other half of the stone angel image of the title. Hagar has been like stone, hard and impenetrable, for long enough; now, perhaps it is time for her to reflect the other side of the image—messenger of truth, symbol of the eternal operation of divine love and light in the human world. It is not that stubborn Hagar herself becomes angelic, but she has pushed open a door just wide enough for light to penetrate. No longer stone, she expresses something more fluid, and it is appropriate that the final transformative image is of water. Hagar's last act is to hold in her hands a full glass of water, wresting it away from a nurse who tries to hold it for her. This is much more than a final affirmation of independence and dignity; for the glass of water held freely at life's end surely also symbolizes the inexhaustible "living water" of the New Testament that signifies divine grace, for grace, like Hagar's glass of water, is also "To be had for the taking."
Source: Bryan Aubrey, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale Group, 2001.
In the following essay excerpt, Rooke analyzes The Stone Angel from a feminist perspective, focusing on Hagar's male relationship.
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What Do I Read Next?
- When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple (1991), edited by Sandra Martz, is a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs that explores the aging process in women in a positive light.
- Barbara Pym's novel Quartet in Autumn (1977) explores with wry humor and gentle irony the lives of four single people in their sixties. In the face of solitude and aging, they do their best to construct meaningful lives.
- William Shakespeare's King Lear (1605–06) is a harrowing play about an eighty-year-old king who is cast out by two of his daughters, and through extreme suffering finally attains a measure of wisdom and redemption.
- "Today Is Sunday," one of the stories in Peter Ho Davies' collection Equal Love (2000), is in teresting because it revolves around a situation that occurs twice in The Stone Angel, when a character pretends to be a cherished relative of a delirious or dying person in order to offer the sick person comfort.
- The Jest of God (1966), the second novel in Margaret Laurence's Manawaka series, is about Rachel Cameron, a lonely teacher who eventually learns how to come to terms with her anxiety and confusion.
- Aging 00/01, 13th ed. (1999), by Harold Cox, is a collection of press articles that discuss a variety of problems and solutions related to aging in today's society.
- Betty Friedan's The Fountain of Age (1994) presents a new look at how society views aging. It shows that myths of inevitable decline are outdated, and that life can continue to be full of growth and happiness even as people age.
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Source: Constance Rooke, "A Feminist Reading of The Stone Angel," in Canadian Literature, Vol. 93, Summer 1982, pp. 26-41.
Beckman-Long, Brenda, "The Stone Angel as a Feminine Confessional Novel," in Challenging Territory: The Writing of Margaret Laurence, edited by Christian Riegel, University of Alberta Press, 1997, p. 48.
Buss, Helen M., Mother and Daughter Relationships in the Manawaka Works of Margaret Laurence, University of Victoria Press, 1985, p. 11.
Davies, Robertson, Review, in New York Times Book Review, June 14, 1964, p. 4.
Laurence, Margaret, "Gadgetry or Growing: Form and Voice in the Novel," in A Place to Stand On: Essays by and about Margaret Laurence, edited by George Woodcock, NeWest Press, 1983, p. 83.
Laurence, Margaret, "Sources," in Margaret Laurence, edited by William New, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1977, p. 15.
Morley, Patricia, Margaret Laurence, Twayne, 1981, pp. 78, 81.
New, William, ed., Margaret Laurence, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1977, pp. 141-42.
Staines, David, "Margaret Laurence," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers Since 1960, first series, edited by W. H. New, Gale, 1986, pp. 261-69.
Sullivan, Rosemary, "An Interview with Margaret Laurence," in A Place to Stand On: Essays by and about Margaret Laurence, edited by George Woodcock, NeWest Press, 1983 p. 68.
Review, in Time, July 24, 1964.
Review, in Times Literary Supplement, March 19, 1964.
Tracy, Honor, Review, in New Republic, June 20, 1964, p. 19.
Twigg, Alan, "Canadian Literature: Margaret Laurence," in For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers, Harbour Publishing, 1981, pp. 261-71.
Cameron, Donald, Conversations with Canadian Novelists, Macmillan of Canada, 1973.
Includes "The Black Celt Speaks of Freedom," an interview with Laurence.
Coger, Greta M. K. McCormick, ed., New Perspectives on Margaret Laurence: Poetic Narrative, Multiculturalism, and Feminism, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Eighteen essays on all aspects of Laurence's work, including three on The Stone Angel, suitable for advanced students.
Gibson, Graeme, Eleven Canadian Novelists, Toronto, 1973.
Kuester, Hildegard, The Crafting of Chaos: Narrative Structure in Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel and The Diviners, Rodopi, 1994.
The chapter on The Stone Angel is scholarly but readable, and includes an interesting section on the genesis of the novel, in which Kuester examines an earlier typescript version and compares it to the final version.
Lennox, John, and Ruth Panofsky, eds., Selected Letters of Margaret Laurence and Adele Wiseman, University of Toronto Press, 1997.
Laurence conducted a forty-year correspondence with her friend and fellow novelist Adele Wiseman, and nearly four hundred of those letters are included here. There are numerous comments about The Stone Angel.
Morley, Patricia, Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home, McGill-Queens University Press, 1991.
A biographical and critical study which shows the links between Laurence's African and Canadian writing and her evolving sociopolitical concerns.
Thomas, Clara, The Manawaka World of Margaret Laurence, McClelland and Stewart, 1976.
This readable survey of Laurence's fiction is one of the best introductions to her work.