Aunt Granny Lith

by Chris Offutt

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Discussion Topic

Analysis of the symbolic elements and overarching theme in "Aunt Granny Lith."


In "Aunt Granny Lith," the symbolic elements include Aunt Granny Lith herself, representing the inevitability of death and the passage of time. The overarching theme revolves around the acceptance of mortality and the natural cycle of life and death, highlighting how individuals and communities cope with loss and change.

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What symbolism exists in "Aunt Granny Lith," and how does the author highlight it?

Yes, there are a few symbols in the story.  Let us speak about a couple of them.  Considering this is a modern folktale of the Appalachian Mountains (where this eNotes Educator happens to live), it's is interesting to talk about these symbols.  Most specifically, there is a symbol of protection and a symbol for healing.

The first symbol is the charm from Nomey (Beth's mother) which symbolizes protection.  Found in the part of the story set in the past, this symbol has its roots in Appalachian folklore where charms and amulets are meant to protect people from certain vices.  Nomey is concerned because Casey's first wife perished soon after the wedding.  That first wife died in a kind of gruesome way:  after being impaled (in the face) by a tree branch. Further, Nomey is concerned because Casey's second wife died as well.  That second wife died in another strange accident:  a broken neck at the bottom of the ravine.   This is enough for Beth's mother, Nomey, and she gives Beth a charm to wear against the "hex" that Casey must have on him.

Beth's own sexuality is a symbol as well:  a symbol for the "cure."  Not only is Casey hexed (according to Nomey), but he is also "sick" with a desire for alcohol.  Casey needs a cure, and it comes from Beth's own beautiful sexuality and the desires of a strong woman for her man.  Beth's sexuality is the ultimate healing for Casey, and this is proven by the last scene of the story where the two are in the heat of passion.  How do we know that Beth has provided the cure?  Her "knowing smile" when husband and wife embrace at the end. 

In conclusion, it is important to note that the characters can be seen as symbols themselves.  Beth, as the strong an independent woman can be seen as the guard and protector.  Other women are symbols of temptation.  So, as you can see, this story is ripe with symbolism.

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What is the theme of "Aunt Granny Lith"?

"Aunt Granny Lith" by Chris Offutt is a short story about life in the Appalachian mountains fused with folkloric elements. In an autobiographical article published in Ace Weekly, Offutt states that the name "Lith" is intended as an abbreviation of "Lilith" the name of Adam's first wife in certain mystical traditions. Thus the first theme is that of a powerful, magical presence of a first wife or a first love that haunts subsequent relationships.

Offutt also states that he attempted to incorporate other folkloric traditions into the story, including those of Eastern Europe and the Eleusinian Mysteries. This leads to a theme of the cycle of female life symbolized by the figures of crone, mother, and maiden, with Granny Lith being the crone figure, both threatening and benevolent, Beth the mother, and the couple's daughters representing the maiden or future.

Another theme of the story is about taking promises and karma seriously, with Casey only being freed from as series of misfortunes when he finally pays his debt to Granny Lith. 

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