The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

by

Katherine Anne Porter

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The Jilting of Granny Weatherall Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Granny Weatherall tells Doctor Harry, who is inspecting her, to leave her be. She claims that the “brat ought to be in knee breeches.” In return, Doctor Harry ignores and dismisses Granny himself, telling her to be a “good girl” and calling her “Missy.” He tells Granny that she is ill, but she says that she is not.
Granny is afraid of dying, so she tries to gain control over her situation by treating Doctor Harry like a small child. By belittling the doctor who is looking after her, Granny seeks to diminish her own illness and pretend that nothing is wrong with her health.
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Granny feels that her bones are “loose” and “floated around in her skin,” and that Doctor Harry floats too, like “a balloon around the foot of the bed.” She means to wave goodbye to the doctor as he leaves, but finds that it is “too much trouble,” and her eyes close without her meaning them to.
These are some of the first signs in the narrative that Granny’s health is not quite as good as she thinks it is. Hallucinations like these imply that Granny is indeed very ill, despite what she likes to tell herself, and that she is not in control of her own body anymore.
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Granny hears Cornelia and Doctor Harry whispering outside in the hallway. They claim that she was never “like this” and dismiss her because she is eighty. This infuriates Granny, as she doesn’t like people whispering about her when she still feels perfectly healthy. She decides that she would like to “spank” Cornelia.
Granny once again feels powerless when she hears the doctor and her daughter Cornelia whispering about her in the hallway. She hates to be dismissed as old or ill, so she attempts to assert some control over the situation by imagining Cornelia as a small child that she can “spank.”
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As she starts to drift back off to sleep, Granny thinks about all of the things that need to be done tomorrow, as there is “always so much to be done.” She muses on how it is good to “spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges orderly,” and to “have everything clean and folded away.” She imagines, for example, “hair brushes and tonic bottles sitting straight on the white embroidered linen,” but then remembers something very important that she must sort out: a box of love letters in the attic from two men, George and John. She decides that she must sort the box out tomorrow, so that her children don’t find out “how silly she had once been.”
Granny often feels powerless in the world, so she tries to control it by carefully ordering her domestic environment. The literal organization of “hair brushes and tonic bottles” therefore also evokes Granny’s wider desire to control every aspect of her life, from her health to her relationships. Her desire to sort out the box of old love letters therefore actually represents, on a deeper level, her desire to regain control over her past relationships. George, Granny’s ex-fiancé, left her at the altar sixty years ago, and she wants to diminish and take control of this painful memory by disposing of the physical letters associated with it.
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Granny thinks suddenly of death, and the thought of it feels “clammy and unfamiliar.” She decides that there is no use worrying about death anymore anyway, because she has spent “so much time preparing for death there was no need for bringing it up again.” She remembers a time twenty years ago when she thought she was about to die and prepared her will, but she recovered. She thinks of her father, who lived until he was “one hundred and two years old” and claimed it was because he drank a “noggin of hot toddy” every day. Cornelia comes back into the room, and Granny asks her for the same drink.
Granny is obviously very afraid of death and her lack of control over it, so she tries to cope with this through little domestic tasks that make her feel more in control. Twenty years ago she did this by preparing her will, and now she asks for a “noggin of hot toddy” like her father, because she hopes that it will help her live longer.
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Again Granny hears Cornelia talking about her behind her back, saying she is “childish,” and Granny becomes annoyed. She thinks back to a time when she had “kept a better house” than Cornelia. She was a strong mother and wife and housekeeper, and she proudly recalls her achievements. Her children still ask her advice, she thinks. Lydia, for example, drove “eighty miles for advice” about her own children. Granny remembers “all of the food she had cooked, and all the clothes she had cut and sewed.” Once she “fenced in a hundred acres” with the help of only one young boy. She was also a midwife, and remembers “riding country roads in the winter” and “sitting up nights with sick horses” and “sick children” and “hardly ever losing one of them.”
Granny hates to be belittled by Cornelia, especially in her current state of powerlessness. She mentally fights back by revisiting a time when she was young, and a much better mother and housekeeper than Cornelia. This seems to make her feel better. She still prides herself immensely on her achievements as a younger woman, and her memories seem to reassure her in the face of death, serving as a reminder of her strength.
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As Granny thinks back to the past, she specifically thinks of her children as they were when they were younger, when she could look after them.
Granny likes to think of her children as being young because it reminds her of a time when she was more in control of her life, unlike now.
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Granny thinks back again to what she must do tomorrow, but suddenly finds that she cannot think properly because a “fog rose over the valley.” This transports her back to a memory of calling her children in from their old orchard, away from the dark fog, so that she can “light the lamps” indoors. As she does this, her children gather around her because they are scared of the dark.
The “fog” in Granny’s vision represents everything that Granny can’t control, and so it is a source of great fear for her. This idea moves on to an actual memory of her children being afraid of a dark fog, which makes the darkness seem more literal and physical for the reader. It also positions Granny in a position of control over the darkness, because she is able to banish it by lighting the lamps indoors.
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Granny then thinks about another memory of the orchard, when she told her children to “pick all of the fruit this year and see that nothing is wasted.” She tells them not to “let things get lost,” as it’s “bitter to lose things.”
This is another example of a literal memory with a symbolic meaning. On one level, Granny simply doesn’t like the fruit being wasted, as she likes perfect domestic order. On another level, though, Granny doesn’t like “waste” in general because it reminds her of the life that she feels she wasted after she was jilted at the altar.
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Granny then drifts into a memory of her jilting at the altar sixty years ago. “What does a woman do,” she asks, “when she has put on the white veil and set out the white cake for a man and he doesn’t come?” As she tries to think of her failed wedding day, a “whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it” and creeps “into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows.” This, she decides, “was hell,” and she realizes that the thought of George himself is mixed up with this idea: “The thought of him was a smoky cloud from hell.”
Granny’s failed wedding was the main event in her life which she couldn’t control. The memory of the wedding and her ex-fiancé George are therefore represented by the dark smoke which symbolizes a lack of control in Granny’s life. If the carefully planted rows illustrate Granny’s attempt at order, the smoke threatens to overcome this, and this is such a horrifying thought for Granny that she connects it with hell itself.
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Granny is brought back into consciousness by Cornelia wiping her face with a cold cloth. She thinks to herself that she doesn’t like having her faced washed in “cold water,” and seems disappointed that it is Cornelia before her and not one of her other children. She notices that Cornelia’s “features were swollen and full of little puddles,” and tells her to wash her face because she looks “funny.”
Granny maintains a thick skin throughout the narrative and seems like she is quite harsh on the people who are caring for her. Here it is obvious that Cornelia has been crying, but Granny only tells her dismissively to wash her face. This is likely only because Granny is trying not to let herself get emotional in the face of death. She is scared and mournful herself, but doesn’t like to think about it as the thought alone would be too much to bear. Instead, she simply dismisses any show of emotion as a way of coping.
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Cornelia seems to be speaking to Granny, but Granny can’t understand what she’s saying. Cornelia explains that Doctor Harry has returned to see Granny. Granny is confused and thinks that he has only left “five minutes ago,” but Cornelia tells her that that was this morning, and it is night now. Granny thinks that she is speaking, but no one seems to be able to hear her. The doctor gives her a hypodermic.
This passage again demonstrates the true extent of Granny’s illness. She has lost any sense of time, and can’t even hear people as they speak. It is implied that she is probably quite close to death.
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Once the doctor has administered the hypodermic, Granny has a hallucination in which she goes through various rooms to find her daughter, Hapsy. She sees Hapsy holding a baby, and then imagines herself as Hapsy, and Hapsy as the baby.
This fairly confusing image illustrates just how easily time can pass. Granny slips effortlessly from being an old grandmother into being a young mother holding her newborn baby, Hapsy, even though Granny must have given birth to Hapsy many years ago and Hapsy herself is implied to have died.
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Granny slips back into reality as Cornelia asks her if there is anything Granny wants. Granny replies that she has “changed her mind after sixty years” and would like to see George after all, to show him everything that she has achieved without him: a “good house,” a “good husband” and “fine children.” Nevertheless, Granny cannot help but think that there was something else, something more than all of this, that was missing from her life.
Granny has tried to live her life since George in defiance of him, as a way of proving that she is fine without him. However, it still seems like something was missing, and this may well have been George. As becomes clear here, she is still not over the pain of losing him, and sixty years later she would still like to see him again.
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Father Connolly, the priest, arrives. He was also the priest who was supposed to marry Granny and her former fiancé George. Granny remembers Father Connolly as a man fond of gossip and cursing, rather than as a particularly pious priest. Nevertheless, she seems quite assured in her religion. She “had her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints who cleared a straight road to God for her.”
The character of Father Connolly is not an especially pious priest, because the story ultimately favors the human over the spiritual. By making her priest seem like a very down-to-earth and human character, Porter implies that this is preferable to an overly pious outlook.
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As she comes close to death, Granny gets confused and has flashbacks to the time that she gave birth to Hapsy. She then imagines Hapsy giving birth.
This image suggests that death and birth are much closer than they seem. Porter often links these two concepts in order to make death less negative, and to encourage the reader to appreciate life in the face of Granny’s death.
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Granny becomes very aware of the room around her. She thinks it looks like a picture. She then notices an actual picture on the side, a photo of John, her husband. She doesn’t like it, because she doesn’t think it captures him as a person. It is only a photograph, not “my husband,” she says.
Granny’s dislike of the photograph, because it is not human enough, illustrates Porter’s wider preference for the alive over the lifeless in this story.
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Granny drifts in and out of reality but manages to pull a rosary out of her dress. Her children, Lydia and Jimmy, arrive. Granny drops her rosary and holds instead to Jimmy’s thumb, claiming that “beads wouldn’t do, it must be something alive.”
This image represents Granny’s ultimate rejection of the spiritual in favor of the human. A rosary will no longer do, as Granny can now only find comfort in the people around her.
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Granny comes closer to death and quickly tries to instruct her children as to what to do with her possessions after she dies. She reassures Cornelia that she won’t die yet.
Granny attempts to assert control over her oncoming death by organizing trivial domestic details. These are things with which she is familiar and which she can control.
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Granny feels as if she has become a small blue light. As she dies, the light leaves her body and floats upwards. She asks God to give her a sign of reassurance.
As Granny dies, the “small blue light” signifies Granny leaving her earthly body, perhaps implying that she is heading toward the spiritual realm.
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God fails to give Granny a “sign,” and instead abandons her in her time of need, just as George did sixty years before—“again” there was “no bridegroom and the priest in the house,” because this is also what happened at her failed wedding. Granny claims that she will never forgive this cruelty, and instead blows “out the light” of her own life.
This is the occasion of Granny’s second jilting, because she is abandoned by God just as she was once abandoned by George. In the face of this, Granny feels more abandoned and powerless than ever. However, she regains control by choosing to die of her own accord, blowing “out the light” of her life and dying on her own terms.
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