The Angel and the Living Water: Metaphorical Networks and Structural Opposition in The Stone Angel
The opening of The Stone Angel, whose statue in the first paragraph provided Margaret Laurence with the title of her novel, has often been studied for its emblematic and mystical content. It is in fact easy to see in the blind angel that marks the grave of Hagar's mother a prefiguration of the emotional blindness that will afflict Hagar for a long time; to see in the opposition between the beautiful layout of the cemetery and the proliferation of the wild flora, the reflection of a chronic struggle between cultural order and disorder in nature; finally, to underline that the pioneers of Manawaka, those would-be pharaohs in an uncultivated country, have founded their dynasties to the detriment of the aborigines, the white success upsetting once more the Indian harmony. 1 Inscribed in the first paragraph a clue should, however, draw the attention more, for it signals a characteristic displacement in the expected balance, setting off the beginning of a structural opposition (and not only a symbolic one), a lack that will be partially canceled at the end of the novel.
The essential clues in the first three pages first order space in the tale: the verticality of the angel, as the elevated location of the cemetery (and the garbage dump) on the whole, indicates its consecration whereas the little city, a space at first conquered over the uncultivated areas of the geographical "wilderness" then built with brick and stone, is already in a privileged position in relation to the few, scattered outback farms, such as Shipley's, and the even more remote cabins of the half-breeds, then, finally, the prairie. The monumental angel represents also permanence of time inscribed in the eternal in opposition to the changing reoccurrence of the two seasons brought by the wind, which blows alternately snow and dust.
Another pregnant contrast is that of the cultivated flowers and of the wild plants. Within the civilized space can be found pompous peonies whose haughty heads weigh too much for their stems. These bitter-sweet smelling funeral bouquets, pink or a detestable crimson color, are in harmony with the little girls in