The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

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The Jilting of Granny Weatherall is a short story written by the American writer Katherine Anne Porter. It was published in 1930 as part of Porter’s short story collection, Flowering Judas, and Other Stories.[1]

In 1980, it was dramatized for television in a film directed by Randa Haines, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald as Granny Weatherall.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

As the story opens, octogenarian Granny Weatherall is in bed, attended to by Dr. Harry and her grown daughter, Cornelia. Although Granny finds their concern officious, it becomes apparent that Granny is suffering from a serious illness, and that she is not fully aware of the gravity of her condition.

As she "rummages around her mind", she senses death lurking nearby, and she desires to stave it off, at least until she can tie up some loose ends. Her unfinished business primarily concerns a bundle of letters she has stored in the attic, some from her long-dead husband, John, but primarily those from a man named George who jilted Granny Weatherall sixty years ago. She wants to get rid of them tomorrow, lest her children discover them and find out how "silly" she had been.

Granny’s mind continues to wander in and out of consciousness, and she becomes irritated because Cornelia seems to be whispering about her behind her back. Cornelia’s patronizing behavior causes Granny to fantasize about packing up and moving back into her own home, where nobody will continue to remind her that she is old. Her father lived to be 102, so she might just last to "plague Cornelia a little".

Granny reflects on the old days when her children were still young and there was still work to be done. She imagines being reunited with John. She muses that he will not recognize her, since he will be expecting a "young woman with the peaked Spanish comb in her hair and the painted fan". Decades of hard work have taken a toll on her. "Digging post holes changed a woman," she notes. Granny has weathered sickness, the death of a husband, the death of a baby, hard farm labor, tending to sick neighbors, yet she has kept everything together. She has "spread out the plan of life and tucked in the edges neat and orderly".

However, for Granny life has not always gone according to plan. Sixty years ago she was to marry George. "She put on the white veil and set out the white cake for him, but he didn’t come." Granny has tried to forget the pain and shame of being jilted, yet on her deathbed, this memory keeps resurfacing.

Once again, her thoughts shift. She imagines finding her dead child, Hapsy, after wandering through several rooms. Hapsy is standing with a baby on her arm, and suddenly Granny becomes Hapsy and Hapsy becomes the baby. Then the image fades away and Hapsy comes in close to say, "I thought you’d never come."

Granny’s thoughts wander back to George. She decides she would like to see him again, after all. She wants to make sure he understands that he did not ruin her life; she was able to pick up the pieces. She found a good husband and had children and a house "like any other woman".

Father Connolly arrives to administer the last rites. Granny feels she does not need the priest. She made her peace with God long ago. As she senses her time running out, she thinks of all the things she wants to tell her children, who have assembled to say their goodbyes. She thinks of Hapsy and wonders if she will see her again.

Granny asks God for a sign of assurance that she is loved and accepted, but there is no sign. Feeling as if God has rejected her just as George once did, Granny feels immense grief and, with that, the candle blows out and she dies.

Style[edit]

"Katherine Anne Porter’s short fiction is noted for its sophisticated use of symbolism, complex exploitation of point of view, challenging variations of ambiguously ironic tones, and profound analyses of psychological and social themes."[3]

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall is no exception. In this story, Porter employs the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique.[4] This style allows Porter to create empathy for the title character by giving readers uncensored access into Granny’s mind, memories and experiences. She draws an intimate portrait of a strong, independent woman who, over the course of a lifetime, has harbored a deep and painful secret.

Porter’s use of religious symbolism can be seen in the vision Granny has of Hapsy holding her infant son. And when Granny remembers the fateful day of her jilting, she is overcome by images of dark smoke and hellfire.

Additionally, Porter uses simile and metaphor to describe the process of dying.[4] Early in the story, Porter uses images of floating to convey Granny's state of mind as she wavers in and out of consciousness. Granny's "bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin". "Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed." "The pillow rose and floated under her." However, as Granny’s death becomes imminent, the tone changes, and Porter uses images of darkness and falling to describe Granny’s worsening condition. "Her heart sank down and down, there was no bottom to death." In describing the moment Granny dies, Porter writes, "She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light."

Themes[edit]

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall is a character sketch of an otherwise ordinary woman who has weathered a deep and abiding blow to her psyche. As readers witness the moments leading up to her death, they are able to glean a great deal about who she was and who she has become.[4]

She was once a young, hopeful bride-to-be. She became an independent widow. She has "weathered all" that life has presented. Granny has survived, intact, but not without scars. Although her scars may not be visible to the human eye, by revealing what goes on deep inside her private thoughts, Porter uncovers the wounded pride and vanity that Granny has tried for sixty years to keep hidden, even from those closest to her.

"The sanctity of the human heart and the existential loneliness of the human condition are the enduring themes of this story."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Katherine Anne, Porter. “The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.” (1997): MagillOnLiterature Plus. EBSCO. Web. 8 June 2010.
  2. ^ The Jilting of Granny Weatherall at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Katherine Anne Porter. (2001): MagillOnLiterature Plus. EBSCO. Web. 8 June 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d "Katherine Anne, Porter.“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” (2004): MagillOnLiterature Plus. EBSCO. Web. 1 June 2010.