Aunt Granny Lith

by Chris Offutt

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How does the time and location of "Aunt Granny Lith" contribute to its meaning?

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Aunt Granny Lith is set in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky in contemporary society. The story blends the past with the present by utilizing old Appalachian folklore to make important claims about contemporary society. Granny Lith is questionably magical and lives in a mythic cave. She was the town’s midwife, however, a modern day hospital comes into town taking over her position. Aunt Granny Lith is belittled by this hospital and the character Casey. He is a man who at one time was to be married to the mythic Aunt Granny Lith. However, drunk in present time, he becomes entangled with a descendant of Aunt Granny Lith. Overcoming the past and present, Aunt Granny Lith wins Casey and makes a place for herself. She cures Casey’s alcoholism and uses her sexuality to set him straight. Just as the context and time of the story changes throughout, so does your opinion of Aunt Granny Lith. She is both good and evil, and most definitely magical.

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Offutt's story is nominally set in the present, but the subject matter suggests a place beyond time. The woods and the curse the old woman places on Casey are like something from a fairy tale. The cave the old woman inhabits and Casey's inadvertent "marriage" to the old woman suggest that he has himself become a character in a fairy tale. 

On the other hand, the story's stark opening scene at Lil's house, the fight between the women, and the details around the truck and towing it from the creek are contrasted with the fairy tale elements. It's as if the story is set in two places and two times: the mythic time of the old woman, and the reality of the present day. 

Beth is the bridge between the two. Beth is the one who seeks out Granny Lith, and she is the one who convinces Casey to break the curse by spending the night with the old woman. It's entirely possible that by the end of the story Beth has replaced Granny as his "demon lover."

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"Aunt Granny Lith" by Chris Offutt is set in a remote area in the Appalachians. The very remoteness of the area is an essential part of the plot structure and meaning. For example, Beth needs to walk home and get a mule to pull the pickup out of the creek rather than simply calling a towing company on a cell phone, as most of us in more urban areas would do. This places the context of the story back in a world in which the modern clashes with the primitive and folkloric elements are not only credible but part of people's self understanding.

The cave inhabited by Granny Lith serves as an emblem of the mythic caves which are associated with the "crones" of the folkloric tradition, ancient wise women who can be good or evil but are always awe-inspiring and terrifying and who have mysterious powers and knowledge.

The story uses time in a mythic way, showing the past and present (Casey's youthful promise, his journey to the cave, his present marriage) as intimately connected and part of an endlessly recurring cycle of life linking childhood, adulthood, and old age.  

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