Although “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is a story about a death, it is also, by consequence, a story about life. Porter deliberately juxtaposes life and death, and old age and youth, so that each emphasizes the other. The story acknowledges the fear and sadness that comes with death and old age, but also makes a point of emphasizing all of the rich experiences of life that come before death, encouraging the reader to appreciate life while it still exists.
In the story, death is an undeniably tragic and fearful presence. Granny does not want to die, and she tries her best to act as if everything is normal. She does this partly by moving back and forth in time in her own head. She often has flashbacks to her youth, and she fondly recalls her children as they were when they were much younger, rather than the adults they are now: “Little things, little things! They had been so sweet when they were little. Granny wished the old days were back again.” She even imagines Doctor Harry as if he were a child, referring to him as a “brat” who “ought to be in knee breeches.” By reducing everyone around her to childlike status, Granny is able to pretend that she is not old or sick, and that she is still in control of her life, even as she approaches death.
Porter balances the despair of death and old age with a more positive view of life and youth, which means that the story isn’t quite as hopeless as first implied. For instance, the title of the story leads a reader into thinking of Granny as just that, as an old woman and grandmother, but as the story travels back in time it is revealed that her name is actually “Ellen” Weatherall. The reader is encouraged to expand their view of the protagonist, and to think of her not just as a “Granny” but as a woman who was once young, and who has led a full and rich life just like anyone else. Just because she is now dying, it doesn’t mean that she must be restricted to this one point in her life.
The occurrence of Granny’s death itself is made more positive and complex in the story by paralleling it with imagery of birth. When Granny is about to die, she confuses this with her memories of giving birth, crying out “John, get the Doctor now, no more talk, my time has come.” Later in the story, she declares that “Hapsy’s time has come.” Hapsy was Granny’s daughter, and it is implied that she died during childbirth many years ago. By replacing these deaths with Granny’s memories of birth, Porter manages to imply that death needn’t be as final or as hopeless as Granny might think. Instead, it is linked with the hope and optimism of new life.
Porter’s own near-death experience, in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, probably influenced the message of “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” Being so close to death and then surviving is almost comparable to dying and being re-born, and her experience would have enabled her to appreciate the true value of life. This is, in turn, what Porter implores the reader to do. After all, Granny’s life is just as important to the story as her death. Throughout the tale we learn about how Granny has lived: the family she has raised, the home she has kept, and the tragedies of her past. When her death finally arrives, it arrives simply as a part of life, rather than as the main event itself. Readers are encouraged to expand their view of the possibilities of life, rather than only focus on the end of it.
Death and Old Age vs. Life and Youth ThemeTracker
Death and Old Age vs. Life and Youth Quotes in The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
While she was rummaging around she found death in her mind and it felt clammy and unfamiliar. She had spent so much time preparing for death there was no need for bringing it up again. Let it take care of itself now. When she was sixty she had felt very old, finished […] she made her will and came down with a long fever. That was all just a notion like a lot of other things, but it was lucky too, for she had once for all got over the idea of dying for a long time.
Little things, little things! They had been so sweet when they were little. Granny wished the old days were back again with the children young.
Why, he couldn’t possibly recognize her. She had fenced in a hundred acres once, digging the post holes herself and clamping the wires with just a negro boy to help. That changed a woman. John would be looking for a young woman with the peaked Spanish comb in her hair and the painted fan. Digging post holes changed a woman.