Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although “Aunt Granny Lith” is a modern story about Appalachian folkways, its plot and theme derive from the ancient legend of “the demon lover.” The tale has many variations, but the basic story involves a man or woman who makes a love promise to another. However, either because of an error, as in Chris Offutt’s story, or because the loved one dies in battle, the one who makes the promise tries to break it. A typical plot line is that after several years of grieving, the loved one decides to marry someone else. Then on the day of the wedding, the ghost or corpse of the lover to whom the promise was made returns to claim the one who made the promise. In the anonymous poem “The Demon Lover,” the lover comes to claim the woman who promised herself to him, even though she now is married and has two children. Soon after she sails with him she spies his cloven foot, and he breaks the ship in half, causing them to sink into the sea.

Another ancient story from which “Aunt Granny Lith” derives is the rabbinical legend of Lilith, who was Adam’s first wife before Eve. When Lilith would not submit to Adam’s wishes, she cursed him and went back to her home in the Red Sea, where she mated with demons and had demon children. From there she flies through the night to prey on children or to lie down with sleeping men. She has sometimes been said to be the wife or grandmother of Satan. In Offutt’s story, Aunt Granny Lith is first associated with...

(The entire section is 448 words.)