The story begins with the eighty-year-old Granny Weatherall despairing of a patronizing doctor, Doctor Harry, who is inspecting her. She maintains that she is in full health, and would be fine if only he would leave her alone. Granny feels the same way about her daughter Cornelia, whom Granny hears whispering outside her bedroom door with the doctor. The narrator notes Granny’s hazy perspective; she sees the doctor float around the room and feels her own bones float around her body, in the first hint that the narrative is not entirely rooted in factual reality.
There are also hints that Granny is more ill than she thinks she is. She finds waving goodbye too strenuous to manage, and her eyes close of their own accord. She begins to think of everything that she should do tomorrow—Granny likes to keep her life well-ordered, to have everything neatly put away and in its place. She remembers a box full of letters from her old fiancé George and her husband John, and then thinks uncomfortably of death, but decides that she has spent so much time preparing for it that it can now “take care of itself.”
Granny calls Cornelia to ask for a drink, and then hears Cornelia whisper to her husband that she’s acting childishly. Granny feels bitter at this and recalls a time when her children were much younger, and she was their sole provider. She then imagines her husband John, who died when he was younger than the children are now. Granny thinks back to her achievements, recalling when she once fenced a hundred acres with only the help of one boy. She remembers all of the sick people and animals that she has cared for, and feels pride that she managed to save most of them.
Granny’s thoughts travel back to when the children were young, and she remembers lighting a lamp so that they wouldn’t have to be scared. Suddenly the narrative shifts and she is telling the children to pick all of the fruit, and to make sure nothing goes to waste. Her mind wanders to other food that has gone to waste, more specifically to a white cake, which she had laid out ready for a man who did not come. This is Granny Weatherall’s jilting. She was left at the altar by a man named George over sixty years ago, and the memory of it still haunts her, as much as she tries to forget it.
Cornelia appears again, washing her mother’s face. She says that the doctor has returned to see her, and Granny is confused about how much time has passed since his last visit. The doctor gives her a hypodermic, and Granny starts to hallucinate about Hapsy, who is the only child she really wants to see. She imagines Hapsy holding a baby, and then sees herself as Hapsy, and Hapsy as the baby. Cornelia interrupts, asking if there is anything she can do for Granny. Granny decides that she would like to see George and tell him of her success in life without him. She suddenly realizes that there was something missing from her life, before feeling a sharp pain and asking her former husband John to fetch the doctor, confusing the earlier birth of Hapsy with her own oncoming death. Instead, a priest, Father Connolly, arrives, which unnerves Granny as it again reminds her of her failed wedding day (Father Connolly was to perform the ceremony). She thinks of the wedding cake, which was never eaten, but thrown away. She again imagines Hapsy, but this time standing by her bed, and thinks about Hapsy getting ready to give birth.
Granny focuses on a picture of John, but the picture, she decides, is nothing like her husband. The priest starts to speak, and she realizes that all of her children are surrounding her. She drops her rosary and clings instead to Jimmy’s thumb, feeling that she needs something alive to hold instead of beads. Death has come upon her much more quickly than she imagined, and she tries to ask God for some more time while also giving the children instructions for arrangements after her passing. She feels herself becoming a small light, leaving behind her shadowy body, and begs God for a sign. But Granny is jilted once more, as God gives no sign. She declares that nothing could be crueler than this, before blowing out the light of her own life.