In the novel The Stone Diaries by author Carol Shields, a young woman deals with the pressures of being expected to conform to gender binaries in western civilization. The theme of the story is shown early in the text when Shields writes, "Life is an endless recruiting of witnesses. It seems we need to be observed in our postures of extravagance or shame, we need attention paid to us" (36). Daisy's life is a reflection of how she is seen more than how she sees herself it seems which is odd given that her entire existence is a figment of imagination. In the story that Daisy tells, her own mother died during the process of giving birth to the infant Daisy, which may serve as a psychological basis for why death is such an all-consuming passion in her life. The birth was marked by death and so the two, at least for Daisy, are forever intertwined. Daisy is then abandoned by her father and forced to live with neighbor, Catherine Flett until that woman dies eleven years later. Just over a decade has passed in the child's life and she has already lost a birth mother and the only parent she had known. When Mrs. Flett dies, Daisy is reunited with her father although by this time the young girl has faced too much disharmony and dysfunction to have a hope of a normal upbringing. As an adult, Daisy becomes a popular gardening columnist which in a way also shows how death has affected her because in the garden, thing continually die and are reborn. The final chapter of the novel, entitled "Death" is comprised of a series of observations which concern Daisy's death. "Death" serves as the culmination not only of the book but of the fictional life of the woman at the heart of the story's narrative.
In the final chapter of The Stone Diaries, the author states that there were multiple death notices in the various newspapers which told the population of the town about Daisy's passing away. This is an important aspect because it brings the larger world around the grieving family into the process of mourning. For some people, the death of a family member is a very private thing and they may choose to have a closed memorial service which only family members and close friends may be invited to attend. There are also services which are only attended by immediate family members. Still others choose not to have a memorial service or a funeral at all, but instead may mourn privately without the pomp and circumstance of ceremony. Printing an obituary or death notice in newspapers is a way to ensure that as many people as possible know that a loved one has died. It is therefore unlikely to have a private ceremony or for people both within and without one's circle of acquaintance to be ignorant of the passing of the individual in question. It ensures that the death is noted and printing in more than one paper spreads that information out to a larger audience. By printing the death notice, Daisy's death becomes an event.
In addition to the notices, each of the people in Daisy's life is allowed to react to her passing, including the ability to provide a possible grave inscription for Daisy Goodwill Flett. This allows the reader to see the many facets of Daisy's identity in terms of how other people viewed her. Often, people are many things to many people and this real life factor is seen in the work of fiction. To her children, Daisy is mother and provider; a nurturer but the identification is also colored by their experiences with her in old age. To the people who knew her through gardening, she was an authority figure. Yet, to none of these people does it seem like the death is really felt so violently. Instead, most of those quoted explain that her death was a blessing and that she was now out of pain. One character, Warren Flett, explains without emotion, "My mother's quality of life had been hovering at sub-zero for some time" (Shields 345). The tone of this statement is clearly light as he uses the term "sub-zero." It is a sarcastic tone without any real discernible affection and this is similar to the quotes of all her family members. They describe her as variously amusing, crazy, a fashion enigma, and evasive which is linked to aggression, a side of Daisy that is never seen and so the testimony of her survivors can only be taken as the rest of the story is taken, with the knowledge that appearances and the characters reality might be very far removed from one another. Like her real-life counterparts, Daisy Flett is a multifaceted personality with many different components to her character. Her description by those who knew and loved her makes her more complex and more three dimensional in the novel.
The chapter functions as a kind of death notice itself although a highly detailed one; it provides a far more intimate look at the woman whose story the book has tried to tell. Besides the common information provided in most death notices, i.e. birth date, date of death, surviving family members, accomplishments and organizations to which she belonged, and perhaps cause of death, there is a plethora of intimate details about the woman's life. Firstly, the chapter lists the various addresses which he had once called home, which serves to make her story somehow more real. Daisy has a life history which was more than just what the words on the page showed to the reader. There were homes that the reader never saw her live in, each with experiences and memories which were not shared. The chapter also lists which recipes she preferred to cook and the grocery lists she had made and also provides a list her bridal lingerie, and quite interestingly the books she had collected throughout her lifetime. Each of these components helps to further the fallacy that this was a living, breathing woman who had once lived and has now passed away. This woman is more than the singular perspective of a rather dour and depressing lady. She, like many women who came to adulthood during the middle of the twentieth century was a housewife and mother first. Women of the 1950s and 1960s were defined by their domestic pursuits to a great degree. Following World War II, the men were expected to work hard, achieve success, and find fulfillment according to the traditions and promises of the American dream. Their wives were to be supportive and encouraging as their husbands strived for success, cooking, cleaning, and functioning as a means of sexual release without enjoying the sexual activity themselves. This was after all the era of June Cleaver and wearing pearls, high heels, and an apron while vacuuming the floor. One of the lists of the chapter concerns Daisy's "bridal lingerie" which is a hint to a sexual nature which every woman has but which women of the 1950s and '60s were taught to repress. It must be noted that it is strictly "bridal" lingerie, indicating the dual truth that only with her husband was Daisy allowed by society to have sexual intercourse or interaction with and secondly that only as a bride, that is to say only during the course of the rite of losing virginity could she indulge is something pretty and delicate as lingerie. After the wedding night, even though married, Daisy was damaged and no longer a virgin; thus she was no longer deserving of beauty and delicacy. This list may very well be the last time in her life in which Daisy got a new wardrobe or any finery to speak of and that is why she retained the list among her possessions for life (Shields 349). This is a reflection of the hypocrisy of post-war society in the United States and much of the western world. Recipes and cooking were a singular means of self-expression in a world where such chances were highly limited. Her recipes and grocery lists reflect this side of Daisy's life. Even the children ponder if Daisy might have had a more fulfilling and less desperate life had she been born a man (Shields 353). All women of the era had to deal with the dominance of the alpha-male culture and the oppression of their society which demanded a woman be ever subservient to her spouse, even if his own personality did not demand such blind obedience. As a woman, there was little to which Daisy could aspire and in this highly demanding social setting, she flourished in pretending that wifedom and motherhood was all she really wanted out of life. One of the characters remarks upon her passing:
Now there's a woman who made a terrific meatloaf, who knew how to repot a drooping rubber plant, who bid a smart no-trump hand, who…