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 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.