As this comparison between The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller explores, in literature, tragedy usually follows the progression or digression of a character with at least some redeeming traits who, for whatever reason, (often because of a tragic flaw in character) falls from grace. While there are many variations within the genre, in the case of Laurence’s book, The Stone Angel, the text is a tragic story because the main character, Hagar, is unable to live a full life because of pride, which is her most crippling tragic flaw. Like Willy Loman in Miller’s Death of a Salesman who was flawed because of his outlook on life, Hagar is not an evil or inherently malicious character, but rather possesses a personality trait that brings her life to ruin and meaninglessness.
In both novels that depict tragic characters and circumstances, “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller and “The Stone Angel” by Laurence, the tragic elements are present not only in the plot but through symbolic elements. The tragedy of the character of Hagar in the novel by Margaret Laurence, “The Stone Angel” is symbolized by the stone angel itself and this recurring image makes the reader constantly aware of how both are tragic since they stemmed from a legacy of pride. It should also be stated this is not a tragedy because the main character dies at the end, but rather because Hagar has wasted her life conforming to trivial ideas relate to her own pride and has thus shut out many people who could have gave her life joy and meaning. Despite the fact that she is an admirable character because of her strong will and ambitions and that the reader can identify with her because of her humanity and weaknesses, even with her small realizations at the end of her life her story is still a tragic one since she learns too late how she should have lived her life.
The image of the stone angel in the book constantly reminds readers of the tragedy of Hagar’s life. Like the statue, Hagar is immobilized, blind, and unable to feel any emotion. Even though she goes many places throughout the book, she never seems to grow or change and tends to be an almost timeless figure because despite how she may be moved (just as the statue is knocked over) she never changes significantly until the very end. Like the stone angel she is without eyes that see the truth of her effect on people and of how her life could be different and again, like the angel she is cold and austere. It is significant that Hagar and the stone angel are represented as dual images because the angel itself was something that was placed in the town, “in pride to mark her bones and proclaim his [her father’s] dynasty, as he fancied, forever and a day” (3). In other words, her tragic flaw, which is extreme pride, is immortalized and embodied by the statue which represents a legacy of this same pride which was learned from her father.
Like this stone statue, Hagar is tragic because despite the fact that she is surrounded by life and the possibilities for love and happiness, she is rooted in one spot eternally without the ability to either see what is around her with clarity nor to experience it herself. She remains cold and unfeeling, even when she most wants to express her pain and sadness. As a result, she isolates herself from anyone who might love her, including her father. She admires him greatly but cannot ever let him in. Her only emotions come out as wistful wishes such as when she tells us that, in one of the important quotes from ‘The Stone Angel” by Margaret Laurence, “Later, in the train, I cried, thinking of him, but of course, he never knew that, and I’d be the last to tell him” (42). Her tragic flaw of pride is exposed even at the beginning of the text when we learn of how she never let her emotions show and we cannot help but sympathize with her (even if she is a “holy terror”) because of her flaw.
The greatest aspect of tragedy in The Stone Angel is that because of her singular tragic flaw, Hagar isolates herself and as a result, alienates those she most wishes to love. This is the case with her father, but also with her brother Matt. In particular scene which is most revealing about her character, she refuses to help comfort her dying brother by dressing up as her mother whom she viewed as weak and as a “meek woman.” In one of the important quotes from The Stone Angel She tells the reader that she felt as though she honor Dan’s desire to see his mother but, “I could not help but detest [the idea of putting on the shawl] however much a part of me wanted to sympathize. To play at being her—it was beyond me” (25). Because of this decision, which is the direct result of her prideful tragic flaw, she loses a valuable relationship with her brother, an event which sets the stage for the many other failed relationships in her life. While her relationship with John does not necessarily fit the same description since she does try to open up to him, she destroys it because she overdoes her emotional reaching-out and makes him come to resent her. Her whole life is filled with these unfulfilled relationships and all of them can be traced her tragic flaw. Like Willy Loman, she has lived her life based on a set of assumptions about her world and her place in it that are inherently flawed and not based in reality. Like Loman, she could have enjoyed the simple things in life such as her brothers, husband, and sons in a way that was natural. This blindness to reality goes hand-in-hand with her most obvious tragic flaw, pride, and renders her a tragic figure.
By the end of the story, her death is not what makes the book tragic but instead it is her life and her failure to recognize her tragic flaw before it is too late. Although she finally makes peace with Marvin, telling him in one of the important quotes, “you’ve been good to me, always. A better son than John” (304) this does not make up for years of emotional neglect. Even though the reader might want to see this reconciliation as part of a coming happy ending, it is far too little too late. Furthermore, although she realizes, “every joy I might have held in my man or any child of mine or even the plain light of morning…all were forced to a standstill by some break of proper appearances…When did I ever speak the heart’s truth” (292) this does not create a happy ending or a solution to a tragic flaw. Instead of resolving the potential for a tragic ending, her late realization of her life’s mistakes is more tragic because there is minimal hope of her correcting past wrongs or ever feeling the warmth of love or understanding.
In sum, this story, much like Death of a Salesman presents readers with a character who does have redeeming traits. We admire Hagar’s great strength and will but find it difficult to get over her crippling pride. She is not likable in any general sense of the word, but she is someone that we can relate to since she is flawed. The problem is, as the thesis statement for this essay makes clear, her flaw is so powerful and has such an effect on her life that it can be considered as nothing short of completely tragic since her whole existence is stunted because of it. While she is beautiful because of her courage and will, she is like the stone angel—something that can be gazed upon with wonder but never really penetrated or understood.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Symbols and Symbolism in The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence • The Theme of Distant and Remote Locations in “Death of a Salesman” • Analysis of Characters and Themes in “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller