Since being jilted at the altar sixty years ago, Granny Weatherall has found peace in carefully controlling her life, creating order and structure for herself and her family. Now, on her deathbed, she is afraid of dying, but she reassures herself through small acts of control, such as making a will and organizing her possessions. However, Granny’s attempts at control are no match for death: she dies much more quickly than she was expecting, and without the sign from God that she had hoped for. Nevertheless, she regains some control at the end of the story by blowing “out the light” of her own life, rather than letting someone else do it for her. Ultimately, Porter seems to suggest that although the world can never truly be controlled, people can still seek happiness and solace in their own sense of order and purpose.
Sixty years ago, when her fiancé George abandoned her on their wedding day, Granny came to learn just how harsh and unpredictable the world can be. She remembers feeling that “the whole bottom [had] dropped out of the world” when he didn’t turn up, and since then George has represented to Granny the aspects of her life that she cannot control. “The thought of him,” Porter writes, “was a smoky cloud from hell” that “crept up and over the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows.” This carefully planted field represents Granny’s deliberately structured and reassuring world, and the memory of George constantly threatens this order because it reminds Granny that she can never fully control her life no matter how hard she tries.
Nonetheless, since George left her Granny has been carefully structuring her life in the hopes that she can regain some of the agency that she lost with her jilting. Porter takes care to describe in detail the mundane domestic tasks, such as lighting lamps, sewing clothes, cooking food, and tending to the garden, that Granny has spent her life obsessing over. She decided long ago that it is “good to have everything clean and folded away,” and to “spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges orderly.” Once everything has been put into order, she believes, only then can a person enjoy a small moment “for peace.” Granny’s ordered “plan of life” makes her feel more in control, which makes her happier and more relaxed as a result.
While Granny maintained the illusion of control over her life, in facing death she is more powerless to manage her fate. Nonetheless, she does what she can to create order. In an early passage, for example, she finds “death in her mind,” which makes her very uncomfortable, so she turns her mind to familiar things that she can control. She thinks of her father, who lived to be “one hundred and two years old” and had “drunk a noggin of strong hot toddy” every day of his life. As if she hopes that this will extend her own life, Granny quickly asks her daughter Cornelia for the same drink.
Granny also asserts control on her deathbed by trying to manage others, particularly by treating them like children. She constantly treats Cornelia, her adult daughter who is caring for her, as if she were a child—claiming, for example, that she would like to “spank her.” She also treats Doctor Harry as if he were a petulant child, telling him to “take [his] schoolbooks and go” and calling him a “brat.” Granny does this because she knows that she is very ill—so ill that she cannot take care of herself—but she is trying to reassure herself by belittling the people with control over her and pretending that she still has power over them, as she did in her prime.
To emphasize that Granny’s attempts to control death are doomed to fail, Porter draws a parallel between death and Granny’s first jilting. When Granny asks God for a sign and God fails to deliver, Porter describes God’s absence as, “again no bridegroom and the priest in the house.” Her first bridegroom, George, failed to show up to their wedding, but in the Bible, Jesus is also referred to as a bridegroom, so when God does not appear to Granny, it is as if her bridegroom has jilted her a second time. In this way, Porter suggests that, just as Granny’s pointless preparations for her first wedding could not alter its disastrous outcome, her attempts to prepare for and control death are ultimately futile. She has spent “so much time preparing for death” that she thinks it could “take care of itself now,” but when death finally arrives, Granny becomes panicked and suddenly starts noting all of the tasks she hasn’t had time to finish.
However, thinking of order provides Granny little comfort, and so she wrests control in a more tangible way: at the close of the story, Granny herself blows “out the light” of her own life. Earlier in the story, Porter mentions that only once all the household chores have been completed is there a little “margin” left over for “peace,” and the story gives the sense that as Granny finally decides to take death into her own hands, she is allowed a moment of rest before she dies.
In light of this, Porter suggests that even though life and death can never truly be controlled, some peace and reassurance can still be found in maintaining a personal sense of order. Granny’s domestic structure certainly offered her contentment in life, and even though misfortune plagued her, she still managed to live and die on her own terms because of it. Her jilting at the altar and her eventual death both took her by surprise, but she found comfort in those things she could control, like her home, her children, and the last moment of her life itself.
Order and Control ThemeTracker
Order and Control Quotes in The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
Cornelia was dutiful; that was the trouble with her. Dutiful and good: “So good and dutiful,” said Granny, “that I’d like to spank her.”
Things were finished somehow when the time came; thank God there was always a little margin over for peace: then a person could spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges orderly. It was good to have everything clean and folded away, with the hair bushes and tonic bottles sitting straight on the white embroidered linen.
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.
I want you to pick all the fruit this year and see that nothing is wasted. There’s always someone who can use it. Don’t let good things rot for want of using. You waste life when you waste good food. Don’t let things get lost. It’s bitter to lose things.
There was the day, the day, but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That was hell, she knew hell when she saw it.