Themes and Meanings
“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.
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.
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.
(The entire section is 1,228 words.)