The Jilting of Granny Weatherall Essays and Criticism
by Katherine Anne Porter

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Jilting of Granny Weatherall Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Narrative Structure and Themes

(Short Stories for Students)

In her essay "The Eye of the Story,'' fellow southern writer and critic Eudora Welty observes that "most good stories are about the interior of our lives, but Katherine Anne Porter's stories take place there; they surface only at her choosing." "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall'' is certainly one of these interior stories, as Porter uses Ellen Weatherall's fragile state of mind as a narrative device to connect past and present and the living and the dead.

While "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" is told by a third person narrator, readers are drawn into the mind of Ellen Weatherall and come to see the events of the story from her perspective. Readers laugh along with her, for example, when she teases the doctor about his youth. Gradually, however, Ellen's grasp of reality slips off its moorings and she begins to journey back into her past. Readers are able to travel along with Ellen Weatherall as her memories slip in and out of the present time during the course of the story. This narrative technique, called stream-of-consciousness, allows the writer to abandon the ordinary constraints of time and space, and invites the reader to enter into the consciousness of the character. Porter's descriptive prose brilliantly portrays the way Granny Weatherall's mind wanders from the sound of whispered voices to remembered breezes, from the feeling of being in one room one moment, to the memory of another room long ago. Important events in Granny Weatherall's life are recounted in fragmented recollections, and readers become privy to these memories in the course of the story. In Eudora Welty's words, "The presence of death hovering about Granny Weatherall she [Porter] makes as real and brings us near as Granny's own familiar room that stands about her bed realer, nearer, for we recognize not only death's presence but the character death has come in for Granny Weatherall." As readers we become the unseen observers in the room, sympathizing with Granny's point of view.

The woman who "weathered all," for whom life has been "a tough pull," struggles first to suppress and then to address the worst moment of her life. This moment occurred on the day when George jilted her at the altar. Granny Weatherall is a woman who likes to take care of details and to make plans, and in exchange she expects certain results. She still believes that her death is not imminent. She thanks God that "there was always a little margin over for peace: then a person could spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges neatly." But as her conscious control falters, she remembers the day when her faith in order was shattered: "the day... a whirl of smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows.'' In this passage the smoke symbolizes confusion and doubt overwhelming her best laid plans, which are symbolized by the neat rows. These images of light and dark, clarity and confusion, recur in various forms throughout the story and foreshadow the final scene when darkness defeats Granny Weatherall' s careful calculations.

Although Granny Weatherall apparently takes pleasure in recollecting the accomplishments of her life: the children born and raised; the hard work taken on and completed; the "edges tucked in orderly''; she cannot keep the clouds of doubt out of her mind. John Edward Hardy discusses her doubt in his book Katherine Anne Porter . Hardy writes: "the pleasure of her recollections ... is gradually undercut by a recurrent, terrifying sense of something lost, or missed, something that she can never quite define, something so important that the lack of it makes all that she had as nothing." Granny herself reveals what it is she had feared all her life: "For sixty years she had prayed against remembering him and against losing her soul in the deep pit of hell, and now the two things were mingled in one and the thought of him was a smoky cloud from hell that moved and crept in her head.'' There is...

(The entire section is 4,488 words.)