Porter was highly critical of religion at the time of writing “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” She had abandoned Roman Catholicism when she divorced her first husband, a Catholic who was physically abusive to her. Her views are reflected very clearly in the story, with God himself featured as the second and cruelest of Granny Weatherall’s jilters, failing to give her a sign of reassurance when she needs it most. In the moments before Granny’s death, religion has nothing to offer her, but the people around her—her children and her doctor—are working tirelessly to make her comfortable. By consistently paralleling the present and comforting human world with the failures of spirituality, Porter advocates a belief in humanity and human relationships as the path to happiness and redemption.
The most obvious way in which religion and humanity are paralleled in the story is through the figures of the two jilters, George and God. George, Granny’s first bridegroom, fails to be there for her at their wedding. Granny also refers to God as a bridegroom (“Again no bridegroom”) when he fails to give her a sign of reassurance before her death. Jesus as a bridegroom is a traditional Christian idea, so when God does not appear to Granny, it is as if her bridegroom has not turned up for a second time. The two jilters, George and God, are thus made effectively equal.
This parallel (which is clearly unfavorable to God and religion) is made worse by the fact that George is actually associated with hell, as Granny imagines him in her mind as “a smoky cloud from hell.” Since God and George are parallel figures, and George is seen as satanic, then God is, by proxy, associated with a vision of hell itself, which completely undermines a fundamental aspect of Christian faith. Porter thus suggests that if heaven exists at all, it is no better than earth (and might actually be closer to hell).
Porter also emphasizes the importance of humanity over religion by praising things that are human and “alive” over the spiritual and lifeless. Father Connolly, for example, is portrayed not as a particularly pious priest, but as a down-to-earth, normal, man. This might make him a bad priest, but it does make him a far more sympathetic character. Granny enjoys his funny stories about people’s confessions, and he likes a cup of tea and a round of cards just as much as the next man. Overall, he is a likeable figure, so it’s notable that he is associated more with humanity than God.
Moreover, throughout the story, Granny has a growing need for “something alive” and human, rather than lifeless or spiritual. Most obviously, she drops her rosary as she dies and instead holds on to her son Jimmy’s thumb. “Beads wouldn’t do, it must be something alive,” she thinks. In the face of her death, her human family can offer her far more comfort than her lifeless rosary, and this is Granny’s first clear rejection of the spiritual in favor of the human.
Overall, it is clear that Porter was far fonder of humanity than she was of religion at the time of writing “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” Not only is Granny abandoned at the altar by her former fiancé, George, but she is also abandoned on her deathbed by God himself. Religion fails her, and instead she seeks comfort in the people that surround her. After all, “beads wouldn’t do, it must be something alive.”
Religion vs. Humanity ThemeTracker
Religion vs. Humanity Quotes in The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
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.
The rosary fell out of her hands and Lydia put it back. Jimmy tried to help, their hands fumbled together, and Granny closed two fingers around Jimmy’s thumb. Beads wouldn’t do, it must be something alive.
She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light.