The Novel as a Medium of Global Expression – Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
It is difficult to contain novels such as Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart “within territorial boundaries. ” Novels such as these have specific settings making it seem like they are contained by geography. Nevertheless, the readers are able to relate to characters in any novel in various ways. The Stone Angel and Things Fall Apart, for instance, both contain a life story of tragic heroes that appeals to a diversified group of readers. Laurence’s Hagar is a proud and stubborn old woman who lives in a quiet Canadian prairie town of Manawaka in isolation.
Through the course of recounting the past, Hagar is able to find self-identity. Okonkwo, in Achebe’s novel, is also portrayed as a proud man who clings to the traditional values of his clan so much that it leads to his ruin. Readers are able to relate to these characters through unifying themes such as the influences of characters and time on an individual. A novel’s themes not only help focus on specific issues in the setting of the novel, but they allow readers to view these issues from a wider scope that is, to be compared and contrasted to the rest of the world – making the novel a form of “global expression. The main characters in The Stone Angel and Things Fall Apart, Hagar and Okonkwo, both share similar characteristics in that both arrogant and isolated because they take excessive pride in the old ways of life in the family and clan. Hagar, as a child, has been taught to be proud of her family by her father, Jason Currie, a conceited, “self-made man. ” Mr. Currie would make his children recite the name of the family’s Highland clan and their war cry, “Gainsay Who Dare! ” She also adapts her father’s habit of romantising stories about the Highlanders and so on.
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Her father’s influence on her sets off a chain reaction, which greatly affects her and loved ones. Through most of the novel, Hagar focuses on reliving through past glories of the Currie name by telling her son, John, about their ancestors, such as Sir Daniel Currie. It is through clinging to the past that leads Hagar to judge others harshly. Hagar, being the narrator, is able to elevate her status by putting others down, for instance, she says Telford’s father isn’t “very highly regarded” and Daniel, her brother, is “always delicate, and he knew very well the advantages of poor health”.
She even judges her own dead mother with contempt, calling her a “meek” woman. Hagar completely fails to see the gentleness in her mother as a valuable quality. She sees Mrs. Currie’s meekness as a sign of weakness. Hagar is ruled by her mind, not her heart. This does not mean she is cold-blooded; in fact, Hagar is very capable of feeling but has great difficulty in expressing emotion because she has grown up with the assumption that being emotional is a weakness.
Hagar’s negative altitude ultimately hurts herself and those around her. She wants “above all else” to comfort her dying brother by wearing their mother’s shawl but cannot because she is “unable to bend enough” since she detests the “frailty” and meekness of her mother and even in Dan. She claims that since her own son, Marvin, is slow in speech and lacks natural charm, it was reasonable to deny him the love he craves from her. Hagar also has difficulty expressing her love for Bram. She keeps her physical attraction to Bram a secret.
This only causes Bram to think that Hagar does not love him and sets forth to become more rebellious to Hagar’s attempts to change him into a “prospered, gentled, learned cravats and grammar”. Hagar eventually comes to realise how her coldness has caused others pain but it is too late, for Dan and Bram have died and Marvin has long given up in appeasing his mother. Okonkwo is a clan leader and a former powerful wrestler in Umuofia who “threw Amalinze the Cat”. Okonkwo takes great pride in the old ways of the clan.
Okonkwo takes pride in family he has made. Unlike Hagar, he is not proud of his father’s achievements. Instead, he considers his father, Unoka, to be a coward and a spendthrift by the clan’s standards. Unoka feared the sight of blood and never took a title during his life; therefore, Okonkwo has been ashamed of his father since childhood. He grows up and earns himself wealth and high status by hard work, being especially proud that he has high influence in making important decisions for the clan.
Okonkwo’s tragic flaw is that he is terrified of looking weak like his father; as a result, he behaves rashly, bringing a great deal of trouble and sorrow upon himself and his family. He rules his household “with a heavy hand” and his family remains in “perpetual fear of his fiery temper. ” He believes being cold will make him stronger than the others. While this does make Okonkwo appear powerful it prevents others from truly understanding him. He does not express his affections for Ikemefuna even though the child treats him like a real father and in many ways, possess all the qualities Okonkwo desires in a son.
This is critical because it creates a misunderstanding between Nwoye and himself. After the killing of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo clearly feels guilty and depressed but he does not share his grief with Nwoye, who loved Ikemefuna just as much. “Something” has “given way” inside Nwoye as a result of this: he begins to question the correctness of his clan’s ways. Is putting in “earthenware pots and [throwing them] away in the forest” justifiable? The lack of explanations leads Nwoye to reevaluate the clan’s traditions and makes the Christian faith more appealing than ever in his eyes.
In this scenario, Okonkwo loses two sons. It is unfortunately that he does not realise his stubborn ways at this time of his life for if he has, he may have been saved at the end. Readers may find it easy to relate to characters that experience changes due to time. In The Stone Angel, they are able to move into the future with Hagar after she discovers her self-identity. By revisiting her past, Hagar begins to understand who she was and the impact she has made on her family and herself by clinging to her pride.
She finally realises that she herself is the stone angel representing Currie pride and a living blind angel who is oblivious to the events around her. She was “alone, never anything else, and never free, for [she] carried [her] chains with [her]… and shackled all [she] touched. ” This must have been a terrible discovery because she finds she has hurt the ones she loved. She recalls the state Bram is in before his death, remembering how he called her name in his sleep. Hagar finally sees that Bram has loved her all along, even before he gave her the cut-glass decanter, a symbol of what Bram loves in her.
At the same recounting of her visit to Manawaka, she is also able to compare John and Marvin. Marvin apologises to his father when he visits him and it is only by recalling this that Hagar comprehends how awfully cold the Shipley Place was when her sons were growing up. John, she realises, has become everything she detests as a way of defying her stubborn Currie values. In this way, Hagar is the one who indirectly responsible for John’s death through her insistence that John should not marry the daughter of “Lottie No-name. Hagar compares the past with the present; especially with how Marvin has treated her and what road he has chosen to take in life. She at last discovers Marvin is the true Jacob, the ideal son she has longed for. At the end of the novel, although readers can see Hagar still carries her pride, she has transformed into a more forgiving and sympathetic person. It is only through forgiving herself for causing pain of loved ones that she could move on simply “rejoice. ” Okonkwo is affected by time as well although he tries to ignore the fact.
The influence of time on him can be perceived as more complex than in The Stone Angel for although he does not budge to new ways, his society is and this undoubtedly affects him. Okonkwo is more resistant to change than Hagar because he directly achieved his successful reputation and not inherited it. He understands how difficult it is to become successful and hangs onto traditions of the clan for he feels they have contributed to his success. For seven years of his exile in Mbanta, Okonkwo is exposed to the traditions of his mother’s kinsmen.
He is given time in Mbanta to curb his pride through learning Uchendu’s teachings of letting go of the past, of his possessions lost in being exiled… but that is not to be. He fails to appreciate the opportunity given by his own clan to change for the better. Instead, he feels he has “wasted” seven “weary years” in Mbanta and that “he would have prospered even more in Umuofia, in the land of his fathers where men were bold and warlike. ” He continues to regret “every day of his exile. He only calls his first child born to him in exile “Nneka – ‘Mother is Supreme’ – out of politeness to his mother’s kinsmen. ” His naming his next child “Nwofia – ‘Begotten in the Wilderness'” evidently demonstrate he has not changed – but the rest of the world has. He has lost the chance to lead his clan against the new faith and the take over of the European government. Okonkwo becomes so “deeply grieved” for the breaking of the clan that he tries with all his might to fight back.
Okonkwo should be admired for his courage in resisting the Europeans invading his country but because of his insistence to be violent and not weak like his father, he dies a tragic death in fighting. Novels serve as windows into other worlds and sometimes readers use them to escape from their surroundings and problems. This is effective at times but readers will find that even if they read books written by those on the other side of the globe, they are able to study and relate to characters such as Hagar and Okonkwo and see the world in a different light.
While Margaret Laurence focuses more on discovery of self-identity through the breaking down of isolation in a small town, Chinua Achebe concentrates on painting a bigger portrait of the world for his readers to see. He writes the story of Okonkwo and the villages to remind his fellow Africans that their culture is “falling apart” and additionally, to portray a clash between two cultures that brings sadness, violence, and change. The Stone Angel and Things Fall Apart truly demonstrate that not all changes are bad and that often, the difficulties are the result of both deliberate and unintended misunderstandings.