The Jilting of Granny Weatherall by Katherine Anne Porter

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” was published soon after British novelist Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927) and American novelist William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929). Following these innovators in the stream-of-consciousness technique, Porter employs multiple points of view, combining stream of consciousness and ironic detachment. Often in the same paragraph and sometimes even in the same sentence, the omniscient author devolves into Granny Weatherall. The effect of this innovative technique is often ironic and always realistic. By tightly controlling point of view, Porter enriches Granny’s persona, making it easy for the reader to empathize with her. Empathy is further enhanced by the use of dialogue, which places the reader directly at the scene. The experience of reading this story is to enter Granny Weatherall’s mind, to share in her memories, and to experience the pain of her rejection.

Porter’s clear and simple diction and syntax contrast with the complex point of view. Simile and metaphor are the predominant rhetorical devices. They serve largely to render Granny’s death experience in recognizable terms. Dr. Harry’s hand is “a warm paw like a cushion on her forehead” and he “floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed.” Granny “floated around in her skin,” and when her eyes closed involuntarily, “it was like a dark curtain drawn around the bed.” “Her eyelids wavered and let in streamers of blue-gray light like tissue paper over her eyes.” Her hallucinatory vision of Hapsy with the baby “melted from within and turned flimsy as gray gauze and the baby was a gauzy shadow.” As death approaches “she saw Dr. Harry with a rosy nimbus about him,” and Cornelia’s voice “staggered and bumped like a cart in a bad road.” It “made short turns and tilted over and crashed.” The earlier floating images are replaced by images of falling. “Her heart sank down and down, there was no bottom to death, she couldn’t come to the end of it.” As Granny “lay curled down within herself” she grew one with the surrounding darkness that “would curl around the light and swallow it up.” The light from the bedside lamp “flickered and winked like an eye.” The final sentence describes her death: “She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light.”

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Porter once wrote that her stories grew primarily out of her passion for the feelings and motivations of individual people, claiming "I have never known an uninteresting human being, and I have never known two alike." For her, however, fascination with the individual did not preclude an interest in broader social and historical issues. Unique individuals were, in her view, the very building blocks of history—"these beings without which, one by one, all the 'broad movements of history' could never take place." The central character in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," is someone who seems curiously removed from the time and place in which she lives—unable herself even to distinguish past from present. Yet, for Porter, individuals like Granny Weatherall provide the vehicle for an exploration of the broader social and historical forces of her time.

Progress and Social Fragmentation
First published in 1929, "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" appeared at the end of a period of relative prosperity in America and the beginning of what was to become the Great Depression. Emerging victorious at the end of the first World War, America in the 1920s was poised to undergo rapid economic growth and social progress. For women in particular, many new opportunities and roles were available. The decade began with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which for the first time gave women the right to vote. During the war, when many young men had left to fight in Europe, more women had entered the traditionally male worlds of work and higher education. In fields ranging from fashion to politics to...

(The entire section is 2,269 words.)