It has been said that, “Rivers and mountains may change; human nature, never.”(worldofquotes.com) This is a quote that can be deconstructed when examining William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. When reviewing the two books the main characters, King Lear and Hagar, are easily comparable.
The first similarity becomes apparent when King Lear and Hagar are both developed as flawed characters. Secondly, because of their flaws the two characters become blind to reality. Thirdly, after being deceived by themselves and others as a result of their blindness, both characters seek refuge outside of their own homes.
By leaving their homes the characters are able to gain perspective on themselves and their pasts. Finally, despite these similarities between King Lear and Hagar, a significant difference prevails after the characters experience their epiphanies and are awarded a chance to redeem themselves. When exploring King Lear and The Stone Angel it becomes clear that although both main characters engage in similar journeys to self discovery a critical difference between the two books exists in the character’s ability to redeem themselves after their epiphany. It first became clear that Shakespeare’s King Lear and Laurence’s Hagar Shipley were similar main characters when their personalities were developed with flaws. King Lear was immediately revealed as an imperfect character when he was shown in his somewhat conflicting roles as a father and a king.
After resolving to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters Lear develops a way to decide how his power and land will be divided. Looking to his three children Lear probes, “Tell me, my daughters/ (Since now we will divest us both of rule,/ Interest of territory, cares of state),/ Which of you shall we say doth love us most?/ That we our largest bounty may extend/ Where nature doth with merit challenge.”(I.i.49-54) It is at this point in the play that King Lear reveals himself as superficial. Knowing he had already divided his land in three Lear could have presented it to his daughters as each receives one third of the kingdom. However, Lear is flawed in that he is superficial and rather than hand over his land and power he would rather hear his daughters competitively praise him for it.
Similarly to Lear’s flaw Hagar is also an imperfect character in The Stone Angel. Hagar, an elderly woman living with her son Marvin and his wife Doris, demonstrates the flawed qualities of being both too prideful and irrational. These qualities become apparent when Marvin and Doris talk to Hagar about selling their house.
Being older themselves, Marvin and Doris decide that they can no longer provide Hagar with the care she requires and that it would be in her best interest to move into the Silverthreads Nursing Home. When Hagar finds our she quickly states, “Doris–I won’t go there. That place.
Oh you know all right. You know what I mean, my girl. No use to shake your head.
Well, I won’t. The two of you can move out. Go ahead and move right out. Yes, you do that. I’ll stay here in my house.”(57) Hagar is showing that she has too much pride to move into a home where she would be carefully monitored and assisted but is also being irrational by saying that she would remain in her house without Marvin and Doris there to help her. When comparing King Lear and Hagar Shipley their similarities are shown in the flawed character traits that they both possess.
The next similarity shown between King Lear and Hagar is that as a result of their personal flaws, both characters become blind to reality. After Cordelia fails to adequately profess her love to her father she is banished and the kingdom in divided between Lear’s other two daughters Goneril and Regan. During his stay with Goneril Lear becomes enraged in her poor treatment of him. He decides he and his train of men will be happier living with Regan. While Lear complains to Regan about her sister, Regan fully supports Goneril and openly condemns Lear leaving Goneril’s house. Faced with the reality that neither of his daughters truly love and support him as they had claimed Lear says to Regan, “No, Regan, thou shalt never have my curse.”(II.
iv.170) After realizing her open lack of love for him Lear pleads to Regan and himself, “Thou better knowest/ The offices of nature, bond of childhood,/ Effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude./ Thy half of the kingdom hast thou not forgot,/ Wherein I thee endowed.”(II.iv.
177-181) Because Lear superficially asked his daughters to profess their love, he has now been deceived by their falsely promoted emotions and is impervious to the fact that his daughters have used him to obtain their own power and possessions. In the same way that Lear is blinded to the actions of his daughters because of his flaws, Hagar is blind to her own actions because she is too prideful. When Marvin and Doris try to explain that they are no longer able to provide Hagar with the care she needs Doris mentions that Hagar has been wetting her sheets. Struck by the accusation that she could be so irresponsible and not know about it Hagar says angrily, “That’s a lie. I never did any such thing.”(74) Even though Doris and Marvin both know that Hagar has been wetting her sheets every night, Hagar has too much pride to admit that she may have lost control of her own body. Evidently it is because of Hagar’s pride that she will not acknowledge or admit to her unflattering actions.
After recognizing the flaws of both King Lear and Hagar it is clear that as a result of their flaws they become blind to their own actions and the actions of others.The third similarity is the culminating point in their journey to self discovery. Both Lear and Hagar are removed from their homes and placed in an alternate environment where they are able to gain perspective on their lives. After banishing one daughter and being outcast by the other two, King Lear is officially banished from his former kingdom. Lear had been blind to the fact that his daughters were plotting against him but now as the castle doors close to shut him out he is unable to make sense of his situation. Taking with him only a servant and his friend the fool, Lear endures terrible weather until a storm begins to gather and he finds himself on the heath.
It is here that Lear is able to gather his thoughts and recognize his faults. Lear says, “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,/ That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,/ How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,/ Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you/ From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en/ Too little care of this!”(III.iv.28-33) Lear has learned to understand what the wretches were going through while he was living comfortably in his kingdom. He is able to acknowledge that he has been selfish and superficial in the past. Likewise, in The Stone Angel Hagar also left home to seek refuge in the outdoors. After running away from Marvin and Doris, Hagar finds herself at Shadow Point.
During her stay Hagar is exposed to the elements of nature and is eventually taken to the hospital. It is here that Hagar is left alone to contemplate herself and her life. After reviewing different moments in her life Hagar realizes that, “Pride was her wilderness, and the demon that led her there was fear.”(292) Hagar recognizes that many of the problems in her life have stemmed from her own pride. Consequently, both characters are eventually able to identify their own flaws.
By removing themselves from their usual environment the characters are able to reflect on the past and recognize their imperfections. Although King Lear and Hagar showed great similarities in their journey to self discovery a critical difference became apparent in the after effects of their epiphanies. While King Lear is able to redeem himself, Hagar is unable to change her old stubborn ways. After his epiphany on the heath King Lear changed both his thoughts and actions. He pushed his pride aside and reconciled with his youngest daughter Cordelia. With her he returns to his kingdom where he is sent to jail but seems to care very little when he says to Cordelia, “No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison./ We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage.
/ When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down/ And ask thee forgiveness.”(V.iii.8-11) King Lear has undoubtedly changed his character as a result of his epiphany.
He redeems himself because he is no longer concerned with his title or the way he is spoken to, he just wants to spend time with the daughter he loves. Contrary to Lear’s positive outcome in changing his thoughts and actions because of his epiphany Hagar is unsuccessful in her own metamorphosis. In the final minutes of her life Hagar is struggling in her hospital bed for a glass of water when she sees Doris come to help her. Instead of allowing Doris to feel good about herself and assist her mother-in-aw, Hagar snaps, “You’re so slowCan’t you evenHere, give it to me. Oh, for mercy’s sake let me hold it myself!”(308) Evidently Hagar has not been able to change her actions and is therefore not redeemed as a character. Despite this lack of success with her actions Hagar does recognize the error of her ways when she thinks to herself, “I only defeat myself by not accepting her. I know this–I know it very well.
But I can’t help it–it’s my nature.”(308) Nevertheless, Hagar does not succeed in learning from her epiphany and is not redeemed before her death. The visible difference in the outcomes of their epiphanies shows a large contrast in the characters of King Lear and Hagar. While King Lear was able to learn from his faults and change to redeem himself Hagar was only able to recognize her own flaws.In conclusion, when comparing the main characters from King Lear and The Stone Angel it is clear that although the characters endure a similar path to self discovery their outcomes prove them to be very different. This has been shown first by their development as flawed characters.
Secondly, as a result of their flaws both characters become blind to others’ actions as well as their own. Thirdly, both characters remove themselves form their usual environment where they experience their epiphany and are able to recognize their own flaws. Finally, despite all of these similarities, the two characters experience very different outcomes of their epiphanies. These two books bring an interesting perspective to the question of whether or not human nature can be altered. In the case of these two authentic characters, one changed where the other could not.
Works CitedLaurence, Margaret. The Stone Angel. McClelland & Stewart Ltd: Toronto, 1988.Shakespeare, William. King Lear.
Harcourt Canada Ltd.World of Quotes. 19 Ma. 2005 http://www.worldofquotes.com/search.php