Laura's Reviews > The Stone Angel

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
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's review
May 24, 2012

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bookshelves: family-life-and-relationships
Read in August, 2009

At close to ninety years of age, Hagar Shipley is struggling to maintain some control over her own existence. Always a stubborn, proud, and driven woman, Hagar has not changed or mellowed with age. In fact, she believes that the idea that extreme old age changes who we are was created by younger people who are "somehow comforted by the picture of old ladies feeding like docile rabbits on the lettuce leaves of other times". Instead of peacefully existing in her memories, Hagar struggles to maintain herself as the same stubborn, proud person she has always been and not allow herself to be "lessened" by age. Increasingly, however, she finds herself on the outside of life, in both a physical sense and also in the perceptions of others.

The Stone Angel is prefaced by a Dylan Thomas quote: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Hagar certainly does rage against her circumstances, and for a time we rage with her. She lives with her son and her daughter-in-law and, seen strictly from Hagar's perspective, they could easily have become stock characters eager to unburden themselves of an elderly relative. Margaret Laurence is a skilled writer however, and gradually she begins to show us the burden that Hagar is becoming to her family: not because they do not love her or wish to care for her, but because they simply cannot do it any longer. She shows us that helplessness is not solely the province of the elderly, and that we are all, regardless of age, less in control of ourselves and our lives than we would like to believe.

In the end, The Stone Angel does not offer any comforting answers to the questions it raises about aging and the nature of the self, but that is not a fault in the book itself. As someone once said (and I wish I could remember who), of all the billions of human lives that make up history, not one has had a happy ending.

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