“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” describes the last hours of octogenarian Ellen (aka Grant Weatherall), a formidable woman who—after begin left at the altar decades earlier—recalls the trajectory of her hard life. Ellen endured many hardships: she was widowed young, raised four children, and maintained a homestead all by herself. Nevertheless, the trauma of abandonment by her first groom George looms large in her memory. The author tells this story from Granny Weatherall’s point of view via stream-of-consciousness narration. Porter weaves the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings with external action.
For example, the opening paragraph demonstrates this mixture of internal and external details:
She flicked her wrist neatly out of Doctor Harry’s pudgy careful fingers and pulled the sheet up to her chin. The brat ought to be in knee breeches. Doctoring around the country with spectacles on his nose! “Get along now. Take your schoolbooks and go. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
The first sentence describes Granny’s physical movements in relation to another character, Doctor Harry. The narrative smoothly transitions into her inner dialogue; the second and third sentences reveal her frustration and possible delusion that the grown physician is a bratty kid playing dress-up. This paragraph finishes with Granny barking at Doctor Harry as if he were a schoolboy.
Her internal sensations meld with her hallucinations of the outside world. Porter later describes,
Her bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin, and Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed. He floated and pulled down his waistcoat, and swung his glasses on a cord.
Obviously, neither her bones nor the doctor literally float around, but the story’s stream-of-consciousness style conveys this sensation. External actions affect and divert Granny’s line of thought. For example, after she hears her daughter Cornelia whispering with Doctor Harry, Granny peevishly thinks,
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.” She saw herself spanking Cornelia and making a fine job of it.
And it is as if she spoke these thoughts out loud, as Cornelia immediately asks, “What’d you say, mother?” Granny will not admit what she is thinking, but simply continues her inner monologue as she drifts off to sleep:
It had been a long day. Not that she was tired. It was always pleasant to snatch a minute now and then. There was always so much to be done, let me see: tomorrow.
Then Porter reveals all the worries racing through Granny’s mind. The old woman runs through a to-do list of tasks that she needs to complete “tomorrow.” In this internal monologue, the reader learns that Granny has saved and hidden love letters from both her first beau as well as her late husband John, and that she wants to hide them before her children find them.
This narrative mode of stream of consciousness continues to mix the physical and metaphysical. She cannot physically rummage through the attic to locate the letters, but her recollection of them stirs up memories of George and John. Also,
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 for now.
Memories from her youth lead to musings of death, which themselves lead to memories about her father who lived to be one hundred and two years old and that she may live longer just to bother Cornelia a bit more. Her annoyed exchange with Cornelia then reminds her of how she successfully raised her kids on her own, ran a household indoors and out, birthed babies as a midwife, and that her late husband would not even recognize her as the woman he married.
In her mind, Granny talks to her children as if they were still very young, advising them about life before trying to take a break with
Now, don’t let me get to thinking, not when I’m tired and taking a little nap before supper.
This stream-of-consciousness style mixes Granny’s thoughts and physical sensations; it also takes the character out of the present and transports her into the past. The present physical sensation of a pillow against her shoulders
pressed against her heart and the memory was being squeezed out of it … Such a fresh breeze blowing and such a green day with no threats in it. But he had not come, just the same. What does a woman do when she has put on the white veil and set out the white cake for a man and he doesn’t come? She tried to remember.
The pillow becomes a catalyst for her bitter recollection of being jilted on her first wedding day. Although she tried to forget George after sixty years, that day burns in her memory. She still wishes to show George that she was able to marry someone else, have children, and build a life after all.
This stream-of-consciousness style further distorts time as Granny thinks that only five minutes—not an entire day—have passed since the doctor’s visit. The parade of visitors—a night nurse, Doctor Harry again, a priest, her second daughter Lydia, and son Jimmy—stir up more memories as Granny recalls her daughter Hapsy who died during childbirth, the priest’s witnessing of her first failed wedding, and more.
Through stream-of-consciousness narration, Porter demonstrates what Granny is pondering as death approaches:
She was so amazed her thoughts ran round and round. So, my dear Lord, this is my death and I wasn’t even thinking about it. My children have come to see me die. But I can’t, it’s not time.
The dying woman runs through her list of unfinished business she still wants to accomplish—leave jewelry to Cornelia, pass the land onto Lydia (not Jimmy), finish sewing, send wine to a nun, etc. Stream of consciousness allows the reader to accompany Granny on her journey into death.