Hagar and Lottie- Two Sides of a Nickel?
Its forty-two years since Hagar made her appearance in The Stone Angel as the protagonist of a fiction that has assumed legendary status amongst the Canadian classics. Beneath the horrible exterior, that 90-year-old Hagar Currie Shipley displayed, she can be touted as a classic example of a stiff upper lip Prairie woman. Suppressed under the anger, lies the wrinkles of pride and prejudice of a lifetime that saw all her relationships crumble and egos not so humbled. Hagar has consumed literary experts repeatedly to visit her surroundings and society in Manawaka to understand her. We delve again in the conservative society, revisiting the friendship and hatred of Hagar and Lottie as The Stone Angel reopens its pages of history.
Implications of social status on Hagar and Lottie
The social status of Manawaka distinguished the well-bred Hagar Currie Shipley from the lowly Lottie Dreiser. She appears to be a victim of her own imagined status. It was her good position in society that makes her see doctor’s daughter Charlotte as her best friend. Lottie in comparison is at the bottom of the social ladder. Hagar’s backbone for social repute is her father. Lottie is illegitimate and does not have a father. Being from a pioneering family Hagar keeps up appearances, which shaped her decisions. Jason Currie, a self-made, successful, reputed businessperson who prides in his ‘high stock’. Obviously, he ostracizes Hagar when she marries Bram Shipley despite his low social standing. Later Hager is portrayed very much a proud wife despite a bad marriage. Early in life Lottie tells Hagar that Bram is not the man she should be seen with because, “he has been seen with half breed girls.” With her high reputation, it was surprising Hagar fell for Bram, a widower. His late wife was fourteen years younger.
Hagar’s checkered relationship with Lottie shows her contempt for the latter. She never considered Lottie of the same social class. Destiny plays John’s wild card to confront Hagar with her past. Hagar strongly disapproves John and Arlene’s marriage saying that they are no match for each other. In fact, Hagar goes one-step further than her father does, by asking Lottie to send Arlene to work in the east. Thinking this would help solve the problem for both the women. In old age Hagar feels it would be better if she had not allowed her pride and emotions to lose her son not so much by accident but more by design. Even though she loved him, she refused to shed a tear when he died. No wonder she stoically says, “The night my son died I was transformed to stone and never wept at all.” As a mother who gave birth, she seemed too hard-hearted.
On the contrary, she shows her real emotion to a complete stranger Murrus F. Lees. She did repent and was learning from her mistakes! However, it was too late for her to change. Had Hagar been able to plot a different destiny with Lottie, for John and Arlene, they would have been alive. Hagar always lived in a world shielded from the vagaries of life without any sentiment.
In contrast, Lottie Dreiser’s low social status makes her expressive. She looks upon her daughter with pride. Hagar notices this recollecting, “She (Lottie) preened a little, and glowed, mother of peacocks, queen maker, Rapunzel’s dam.” She jogs her memory when the two women are discussing their children. When Lottie is trying to kill new chicks, Hagar is a mute spectator. However, when it comes to bringing her ‘good son’ to marry ‘jobless Arlene’ Hagar is ready to hatch a plan to kill the romance with Lottie. As mothers, they have the right. However, they are wrong. Had Hagar not objected, John would not have taken the car out, got drunk and smashed his life. Lottie actually expresses regret saying that they had stamped out the desires of their children by connecting the two, unlike Hagar who does not even remotely regret –not even on the grave! Hagar has denied herself life of any expression whereas compelled by her circumstances; Lottie loses the pride of her life.
When Hagar turns to Murray Lees, he points out that she may be right in separating two unfit individuals. However, the dirty deed has been done to death—not once but twice! Hagar does a rethink and reflects, “I am less certain than I was then that she (Lottie) did it entirely for their sake.” Hagar is guilty when she recollects that they had conspired to separate their children. Hagar realizes she is more like her father Jason.
Personal Characteristics of Hagar & Lottie
Hagar feels she is the strong one. Yet Lottie manages to do what Hagar would have loved to do but cannot. Even when Lottie wants her to do something for the chicks, Lottie says, “I won’t touch them…” In another part of the novel, Hagar cannot sympathize not even when Mat asks for some comfort for dying Dan. Hagar is unable to do what Lottie can do and does not even like her. It is so much evident when she says, “Lottie was light as an eggshell herself, and I felt surly toward her littleness and pale fine hair, for I was tall and sturdy and dark and would have liked to be the opposite”.
Hagar is proud, stubborn, too propah. Lottie is more practical but has a sense of pride…which is more like sense of belonging (in society). She does not trust Hagar over the years. Hagar is able to bring out her true feelings only after she escapes from her son and daughter-in-law. As she cries, she says “Pointless. It was done for a bet.” Did Hagar turn from being horrible to honest? She says, “impulsively, hardly knowing what I am doing, I reach out and touch his wrist’. Hagar was finally coming to terms with her false attitudes in life. However, one stranger guided her to release her pent up emotions.
She also does another noble act when she tries to get up to get a bedpan for 16-year-old Wong when the nurse is not at her station. Hagar does not let her pride come in the way. What’s more, later she laughs with the teenage girl. Obviously, Hagar at that age would not have been able to do it. When Marvin comes to visit her she says with true honesty, “I’m frightened Marvin, I’m so frightened-I think it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever said such a thing.” She also admits to him that he has been better than John has, in her final moments….almost begging pardon for all the trouble she has caused.
Similarities and Differences
Hagar and Lottie react differently to the same situations. Lottie is far more practical as in the case of killing chicks is portrayed and later when Hagar visits her to separate John and Arlene. Hagar tries to talk to Lottie after the death of the star-crossed lovers. Lottie is too ill to talk anything. The incident takes a toll on her. When Hagar remembers the incident that took place eighty years ago, she says, “It was the only thing to do, a thing I couldn’t have done. And yet it troubled me so much that I could not. At the time it stung me worse, I think, that I could not bring myself to kill those creatures than that I could not bring myself to comfort Dan. I did not like to think that Lottie might have more gumption than I, when I knew full well she did not. Why could I not have done it? Squeamishness, I suppose. Certainly not pity. For pity’s sake they were put out of their misery, or so I believed then, and still in part believe. But they were an affront to the eyes, as well. I am less certain than I was that she did it entirely for their sake. I am not sorry now that I did not speed them.” Hagar remembered whereas Lottie forgot. Alternatively, Lottie did not trust Hagar enough to misunderstand. Hagar may have got friendly with Lottie only to drive away her girl. But chatting her up she says, “Well, it seems strange, doesn’t it? When we were girls, Lottie, we’d never have dreamed of this happening, would we?” In reality, Hagar wants, “to have her roots flung up at her.” Obviously, the upbringing matters and makes the women behave differently when put together by destiny. Hagar being the protagonist tries to redeem and seek pardon. At the end, one does sympathize with her troubled life.
In front of friends Hagar is sees her self as a dainty finishing school product unlike Lottie. Even when Lottie invites Hagar to do something for the chicks, she refuses. She hurts a seagull and wonders if she should kill the wounded bird. She remembers being praised for standing away and watching the chicks die. As a child, she thought Lottie had killed chicks out of pity. Lottie did not think of her patent leather shoes but the chicks who were suffering. When an older Hagar recollects she wonders if Lottie really did the right thing.
Lottie confronts death differently. The undertaker’s son takes a group of children to a cool vault of a funeral palor, Lottie is the only one who touches it. Hagar and says, “I didn’t like the looks of that baby at all. Charlotte and I hung back, but Lottie actually opened up the glass-topped lid and stroked the white velvet and the white folds of satin and the small puckered white face. And then she looked at us and dared us to do the same, but no one would.” Lottie is brave even as a child and she is trying to test the other children. Because she comes from low society killing chicks and this is the only ways she can prove her worth and gain respectability. Hagar tells John once that “you have to avoid not only evil but the appearance of evil” when he is seen by Lottie at the dance. Hagar is constantly obsessed with external appearances. She says, John and Arlene’s relationship as ‘joke of God’ and goes on to state, “if people had told me forty years ago my son would fall for No-Name Lottie Drieser’s daughter, I’d have laughed in their faces” She tries to get Lotties help, “with fate, pitting our wits against God’s . Hagar feels Lotties’ family tree does not have proper roots.
Attitudes of Hagar & Lottie -On Each Other and Views of Themselves.
Hagar asks Lottie, “Remember those chicks that day at the dump ground, Lottie, when we were girls? I always marveled that you could bring yourself to do what you did. I haven’t thought of it in years, but I used to wonder – didn’t it make you feel peculiar?”
“Chicks?” Lottie said, amused. “I don’t remember that at all.” Proud as a peacock Hagar also declares, “”Pride was my wilderness and the demon that led me there was fear… never free, for I carried my chains within me, and they spread out from me and shackled all I touched.”
Hagar is proud and her attitude reflects it early in life at the age of six years. She says, “There was, I strutting the board sidewalk like a pint-sized peacock, resplendent, haughty, hoity-toity, Jason Currie’s black-haired daughter.” She carries this pride throughout her life. Another example but of her humbling pride is when she reacts to a report of her son John being seen drunk at a jig and that too by inferior than her Lottie and Telford Simmons. She says, “If you wanted to make it completely impossible for me ever to hold up my head again in this town, you’ve certainly succeeded.” Hagar is high on good reputation. While dying Hagar refuses to ask God for any help. She prays, “Our Father-no. I want no part of that. All I can think is- Bless me or not, Lord, just as You please, for I’ll not beg.”
Lottie’s views on Hagar’s love (Bram), as common as dirt”. Obviously, Lottie does not expect a high society girl to stoop for love. Hagar’s genes are full of Jason’s Currie’s status and self-made demeanor. As proud daughter, she lives up to it until the end. Hagar had been bottling up emotions since childhood. She refuses to cry when her father scolds her for speaking to a customer. Later when she grows up and rebels Jason to marry Bram she continues her emotionless streak. Much before that, she does not cry when Dan died. Her father sees his ‘backbone’ in her. However, for her she is only justifying the pride that her father has instilled in her as a child.
A woman is her own worst enemy until she finds another who ruins her. Hagar’s default relationship with Lottie Dreiser mirrors her own changes in life after the tragic demise of their children. Two women thwarted by each other and destiny represent two sides of a coin…rather a nickel of those social times. Two women from different society levels, similar in their attempts defy God. Both Hagar and Lottie are victims of the social status thrust upon them. Nevertheless, both rise above as classic examples of what ‘The Stone Angel’ symbolizes–One nickel, two opposite sides.
gnooks: The Stone Angel
Stone Angel Summaries by Adrian, Ben and Adam.