The Jilting of Granny Weatherall Themes
The three main themes in “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” are betrayal, God and religion, and death and the cycle of life.
- Betrayal: Granny was betrayed by her fiance, George, when he left her at the altar sixty years ago, and she feels similarly betrayed by her daughter Hapsy.
- God and religion: Many readers have suggested that the ultimate betrayal of Granny involves God and that the story is a portrait of a woman facing a devastating spiritual crisis.
- Death and the cycle of life: As she struggles against death, Granny Weatherall reflects on her experiences as a mother and grandmother.
A portrait of an eighty-year-old woman on her deathbed, ''The Jilting of Granny Weatherall'' is an exploration of the human mind as it struggles to come to terms with loss and mortality. Porter offers no clear resolution to these fundamental issues, but instead interweaves themes of betrayal, religion, death, and memory in a moving and poetic character study.
Betrayal The titles of both the story and the anthology (Flowering Judas) in which it first appeared suggest the idea of betrayal, a central theme underlying many of Porter's stories. Judas was the disciple who betrayed Christ with a kiss. At the heart of "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" are Granny's memories of her betrayal by George, the fiance who abandoned her at the altar some sixty years earlier. This is just one of a series of betrayals experienced by Granny, who also feels "jilted" by her daughter Hapsy for whom she calls out in vain several times in the story.
God and Religion Many readers have suggested that the ultimate betrayal of Granny involves God and that the story is primarily a portrait of a woman at the end of her life facing a devastating spiritual crisis. When Father Connolly comes to visit Granny Weatherall on her deathbed, she is cordial to him. It is stated that Granny "felt easy about her soul." Yet, his arrival seems to trigger Granny's most vivid and painful memories of the day sixty years earlier when she was left by her fiance. The final paragraph appears to include a reference to the Biblical parable of the "foolish brides," in which Christ is compared to a bridegroom. Seen in this light, the ultimate jilting of Granny is her reluctance to acknowledge her own weaknesses and accept some form of spiritual salvation. Just as Granny was left alone with the priest on her wedding day as a twenty-year-old, at age eighty she faces death alone, accompanied only by a priest who seems unable to offer her sufficient comfort.
Death and the Cycle of Life Early in the story, the suggestion is made that Granny Weatherall considers herself to be already at peace with her mortality. Some twenty years earlier she had made "farewell trips" to see all her loved ones: ''She had spent so much time preparing for death there was no need for bringing it up again." However, death proves to be not so easily dismissed and seems "clammy and unfamiliar" now that it is truly imminent for her. Granny Weatherall struggles against death, and though she lacks the strength to get out of bed, denies even being ill. She tries to dismiss her doctor and imagines herself the next day "rolling up her sleeves putting the whole place to rights again.'' The final image in the story—of Granny blowing out a candle—evokes the notion that her life is coming to an end. Yet, there is no sense of closure to Granny's life, no sense that the conflicts raised in her memories have been resolved. The final realization in the story is that "there was no bottom to death, she couldn't come to the end of it.''
As death approaches, many of Granny Weatherall's reflections on her life concern her role as a mother and caretaker. Besides the memories of being ''jilted'' early on in her efforts to find a mate, she thinks mostly of her children. In one passage, she remembers her favorite daughter, Hapsy, who has herself apparently become a mother. The identities of mother, daughter, and grandchild all seem to merge in Granny's mind. Death and birth also become hard to...
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distinguish as Granny, in pain on her deathbed, in a memory relives the pain of giving birth to Hapsy. She finally welcomes the presence of a doctor as she cries out ambiguously,' 'my time has come."
Memory Memory is a double-edged sword in this story where the central character moves back and forth between the present reality and the remembered past. On the one hand, Granny Weatherall's memories are a source of strength for her; she seems to take pride in remembering her life's accomplishments, particularly in overcoming the setback she experienced in being ''jilted." She values occasional moments for reflection when she is able to "spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges orderly." She also finds comfort in remembering her late husband John and is confident that he would still understand her despite all the changes she has gone through since his death—''She wouldn't have to explain anything!"
On the other hand, Granny's reminiscences also seem to reopen old emotional wounds and bring back painful experiences she thought she had put behind her. Her memory of the other man in her life, George, seems to undermine her sense of order and self-worth and to create a kind of debris she has had difficulty throwing out. She is made "uneasy'' by the thought of her children discovering the box of letters from George which she has kept in her attic all these years. At one point, she even fantasizes about going to the absurd length of instructing her daughter to find George and ' 'be sure to tell him I forgot him."
“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is primarily a character study. By being privy to Granny’s death, the reader can infer much about her life. The title describes the enormous hurt and humiliation that has secretly festered in her mind and heart for sixty years. Her great pride was devastated by her jilting; although she married a good man, raised a family, and managed a farm by herself after her husband’s death, she never totally got over the shock and disappointment of George’s rejection. The fact that she has saved George’s letters suggests how much he continued to mean to her in her heart and how the pain of her jilting remained with her for sixty years.
Over the years, Granny was transformed from Ellen, a young bride with “the peaked Spanish comb in her hair and the painted fan” to the fiercely proud old woman, living with one of her daughters, whom the reader encounters on her deathbed. She has weathered all that fate has thrown at her: serious illness, perilous childbirth, traveling country roads in the winter when women had their babies, sitting up all night with “sick horses and sick negroes and sick children and hardly ever losing one.”
Through perseverance and hard work, Granny has surmounted life’s obstacles and endured into old age with children who love her. However, in her most secret self, there is the evergreen memory of George’s rejection. She has not been able to share this deep hurt with her loved ones, and it has cut off a central and tender part of herself from all others. Katherine Anne Porter has drawn Granny’s character with such clarity and compelling force that her life story becomes a kind of prototype for everyone’s, regardless of age or circumstance. Personhood is sacred, and, once violated, the scars may remain for a lifetime. There is something ineffably poignant about Granny’s wanting George to know that she had her husband and children like any other woman. The sanctity of the human heart and the existential loneliness of the human condition are the enduring themes of this story.