New Perspectives on Margaret Laurence: Poetic Narrative, Multiculturalism, and Feminism

By Greta M. K. McCormick Coger | Go to book overview
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Chapter 14
Coming to Terms with the Image of the Mother in The Stone Angel Cynthia Taylor

In Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest, Carol Christ describes a common pattern in women's spiritual quests, which takes a distinctive form in the work of women writers. The first stage in the spiritual quest process is what Christ calls an "experience of nothingness," which precedes the second stage, awakening. Awakening often occurs through the third stage, "mystical identification," and frequently takes place in a natural setting. Awakening is followed by the last stage in the process, which Christ terms "new naming of self and reality" (13). Tracing this pattern in Margaret Laurence The Stone Angel places Hagar Shipley's story in a strong tradition of writing by women: the novel of awakening. In these novels, as in Laurence's, readers attempt to understand the female heroes as they attempt to understand themselves. Laurence's use of this pattern in The Stone Angel allows her to explore several ideas common to the novel of awakening: the survival of personality, the function of memory, the importance of coming to terms with female sexuality, and the necessity of accepting the past in order to understand the present. Laurence's achievement is that she makes her protagonist's awakening contingent upon her ability to come to terms with her image of the mother and of herself as mother, and that the awakening in The Stone Angel evolves in the consciousness of a ninety-year-old woman.

The awakening process that Christ describes begins in an experience of nothingness. According to Christ, women experience nothingness in their own lives, especially in their relationships with men. That is certainly true of Laurence's protagonist, Hagar Currie Shipley. Early in The Stone Angel, Hagar cries, "Oh, my lost men. No, I will not think of that" (6). But Hagar does not have as much control over her thoughts as she would like. In two parallel plots, one devoted to the events of the last two weeks of her life and the other devoted to her memories of that life, Hagar tries to come to terms with her failed relationships with the men in her life: her father, her two brothers, her husband, and her two sons.

Christ says that women also experience nothingness in the values that have

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