Last Updated on February 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 396
Through the female characters of Lil and Aunt Granny Lith—whose names combine to form the name Lilith—the story makes heavy use of allusion to the mythological Lilith, a figure shared by many religions and cultures. Lilith is typically associated with witchcraft, seduction, and a freedom of sexuality that many cultures...
(The entire section contains 815 words.)
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Through the female characters of Lil and Aunt Granny Lith—whose names combine to form the name Lilith—the story makes heavy use of allusion to the mythological Lilith, a figure shared by many religions and cultures. Lilith is typically associated with witchcraft, seduction, and a freedom of sexuality that many cultures discourage in women, as well as with terror and darkness. In some traditions, she even steals newborn babies; In the Abrahamic tradition, she is sometimes regarded as Adam's first wife, but she defies god and refuses to lay with Adam in the Garden of Eden. She insists on their equality and will not allow herself to be ruled by him. In Offutt's story, Lil is a character who tries to seduce the protagonist's husband, Casey, a rather hapless drunk. Beth steps in and saves him from Lil's advances, becoming physically violent with Lil in the process.
We also learn of Casey's youthful experience with Granny Lith: he accidentally vowed to be her husband, not realizing it was her, and she tried to hold him to it, going so far as to kill his first two wives, who died under very strange circumstances. Beth listens to her mother, Nomey, a woman who is familiar with the old folk ways, and manages to free Casey and herself from Lith, but only after Casey spends one night in bed with the old woman. After this, Lith begs Casey to kill her, and it seems likely that he did so because of how ill he becomes upon his return. In this way, Granny Lith does acquire something of the mystical and supernatural about herself: like Lilith, she is connected with freedom, babies, and sexuality in a threatening way.
That Beth was able to overcome not one but both of these women, both of these threats to her relationship, highlights how strong she is. Her mother told her once that women are smarter than men, and that does seem to be the case in this text. Casey is led around by various women until Beth assumes control and begins protecting him, despite his own bravado and desire to protect her. In the end, Beth restores Casey's loyalty and attachment to her, physically and emotionally, using her own sexuality. She is clearly the one in control of their relationship, having mastered her husband, but she never lets him know it.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419
“Aunt Granny Lith” makes use of superstitions and folkways of the Appalachian Mountains to give this modern story of a woman trying to keep her man the archetypal authority of an oral folktale. To make the combination plausible, Offutt situates his story in a remote mountain area of eastern Kentucky where belief in the old ways is still quite strong. Nomey, Beth’s mother, has knowledge of charms and tokens from her own mother and passes this knowledge on to Beth.
Although for the most part, the story seems to take place in the real world, albeit a world only lightly touched by modern civilization, there is still something supernatural about Aunt Granny Lith herself. Her old ways as a midwife have been superseded by the new hospital that has gone up in the region, and it may be plausible that she now lives in a cave. However, it is unlikely that she is able to maintain a hold on Casey without the story assuming some supernatural element, suggesting that Aunt Granny Lith has magical powers.
The story maintains a sense of plausibility while at the same time allowing something of the magical. Therefore, while not strictly a folktale, it is not strictly a modern realistic story either, but rather a careful balancing of both. The blending of the two elements is achieved by the dual time frame of the story. In the past, Casey has mistakenly pledged himself to another woman, the folklore figure of Aunt Granny Lith. In the present, Casey, now under the influence of alcohol, goes to the mythic descendant of Lith, named Lil. Just as Beth uses sympathetic magic in the old story, boiling the buckeye ring to bathe Casey clean after his one night with Lith, in the present story she throws the hair she has pulled from the head of Lil into the stream to free Casey from being drawn back to Lil.
The story ends with Beth providing the ultimate female “cure” for Casey’s drinking and being tempted by other women—her own sexuality. The pervasive irony throughout the story is that whereas Casey thinks he is the strong one because he is a man, it is Beth who triumphs because of her feminine strength. The final indication of this irony occurs when Beth groans from a hip injury received during her fight with Lil and Casey says she always did hurt too easy. The final image of Beth is the knowing smile on her face as she embraces him.