Themes

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Last Updated on February 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493

Double Standards

Nomey tells Beth that marriage means being loyal, but if Casey ever hits her, then that loyalty is nullified. Also, if he stays away from home too long, Beth can consider herself free to wander, so to speak, too. In other words, if the husband isn't faithful, then...

(The entire section contains 941 words.)

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Double Standards

Nomey tells Beth that marriage means being loyal, but if Casey ever hits her, then that loyalty is nullified. Also, if he stays away from home too long, Beth can consider herself free to wander, so to speak, too. In other words, if the husband isn't faithful, then the wife does not have to be either. However, the wife has to be "more careful" than the husband because

That sort of thing was harder for women than men. Nomey chuckled then and said that most things were, and that's why women were smarter than men.

Gender-based double standards make it socially acceptable for men to do things that are less socially acceptable when done by women, such as cheating on their spouses. If a husband cheats on his wife, as Nomey suggests, then the wife can cheat too; however, the wife has to be more careful because society would frown upon her actions much more than it would on her husband's. Loyalty and fidelity have long been considered more important in the female partner than the male.

Female Intelligence

Female ingenuity and intelligence are prominent in the story, and Offutt seems to suggest that women are oftentimes more capable and intelligent than their husbands. Casey, Beth's husband, is sort of hapless, always doing things that result in trouble for himself and others, and he is easily led around by the various women in the story. Lil tries to seduce him and he must be rescued by Beth; he made an odd joke as a child that resulted in the deaths of his first two wives, and, again, he must be rescued by Beth and her mother. Though Casey views himself as the protector who is in control, it is clearly Beth who fills this role.

Power and Manipulation

The story seems to suggest that men are easily manipulated, especially when sex is involved, and that women can use sex to gain power over men. Casey is unable to fend off Lil's advances on his own and must instead rely on his wife to free him from her attempted seductions. He has sex with Granny Lith in order to break his vow to her, but Beth is the one in control of the action as she is the one who encourages Casey to sleep with Granny Lith. Finally, Beth restores order in their relationship by enticing Casey to have sex with her. "She lifted her knees to guide him with her thighs," guiding him literally, physically, and emotionally back to her.

The idea of sex as a means of gaining power over men is reinforced by the connections between Lil, Granny Lith, and the mythological Lilith, an overtly sexual woman who steals babies and uses her charms to lead weak men astray. Offutt's story implies that the only way to combat such a temptress is for a strong, capable wife to take control of her husband and safeguard her family from the natural weakness of men.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

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 children through her role as a midwife and then with the boy Casey, who makes his mistaken promise to take her as his wife “’til death do us part.”

The story’s modern theme focuses on the strength of women to protect weak men from being lured away from their family responsibilities by temptation. First Beth rescues Casey from Lil, another form of Lilith, and then she rescues him from alcohol and from the accident in the creek. In the past, with the help of her mother, Beth saved Casey from the archetypal temptress woman Aunt Granny Lith, or Lilith. This is a story of archetypes, in which the man is weak and easily taken in by women, whereas women are of two types—the hard-to-resist temptress, who represents sexuality, and the strong and dependable wife, who represents the mother/protector. The superiority of women over men is indicated by Beth’s mother, Nomey, when she says things are always harder for women than for men and that is why they are smarter than men.

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