She does manage, however, to marry the exciting, thrilling and rebellious part of the human spirit to the hard-working, achieving and socially acceptable side finally, in her grandchildren. Through all of this, Laurence makes Hagar an unforgettable character because we learn through the book she is a real person with wants and needs and dreams. As the reader learns, Hagar Shipley's dreams were so simple, she didn't even know what they were until it was almost too late.
At three crucial points in the book, Hagar speaks about the things she wants. The first time is a bluff. When Hagar returns from two years at school "down East," she confronts her father about what she plans to do. "I want to teach. I can get the South Wachakwa school," she defiantly tells him (p. 43). But it is as though she expects a conflict, and is even looking forward to one. She knew that her father was just like her -- very stubborn and blunt -- and she goes in to the confrontation with full knowledge of his response. What it appears that Hagar wants is not to teach, but some affection from her father, or even just some sign that he is capable of affection. The only time Hagar ever saw him express anything resembling an emotion was when she hid in the chokecherry bush at the cemetery as he and No-Name Lottie Drieser's mother apparently terminate an affair (or attempted affair) after the death of her husband.
During the confrontation with her father, he reaches an even higher level of rage, which he takes out on the newel post, the knobby carving at the top of the wooden stair railing. He wrings the neck beneath the head-like newel post like the neck of a person. When he expresses, however briefly, that he needs her around, he grips her hand so tightly, it hurts. Instead of recognizing their need for each other, and for the simple expression of affection that is natural for a father and daughter, the encounter ends badly. Hagar pulls away as though she had just touched a hot stove. She has gotten what she wanted: a sign that she is important to him, but in all her pride, cannot go after him when he goes outside. In this she is just like him; they are both proud in destructive ways. This first simple dream, to be loved by one's parent, remains out of her reach because Hagar lets it remain there. At this point in the book, three years pass quickly. Hagar has done what her father wanted, except she rejects all his suitors. In short order, she meets Brampton Shipley and embarks on an ill-advised marriage that flouts everything she was raised to believe.
The next time Hagar speaks of a dream, it is many years later when she has returned to the Shipley home while her estranged husband Bram is dying. She insists that what she wants is for her younger son John to be happy. By this point, Hagar has identified John as the true heir of her father, rejecting her hard-working but plain older son Marvin. She has refused, all these years, to see that John is like Bram, and John is the one who must tell her. She had a clue many years before when she gave John her father's clan pin and he just sticks it in his pocket. John later trades the pin for a worthless knife, which ultimately is worth only a pack of cigarettes.
The sightless stone angel cannot be expected to see clearly, but the relentlessly prideful Hagar just refuses to. " 'You always bet on the wrong horse,' John said gently. 'Marv was your