Anne Porter's “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is
a short story told
partly with a narrative technique known as stream of
consciousness, a term
coined by American psychologist William James
(1842-1910). With this technique,
an author portrays a character’s continuing “stream”
of thoughts as they
occur, regardless of whether they make sense or
whether the next thought
in a sequence relates to the previous thought.
story is told in third-person point of view by a
narrator who frequently
reveals the thoughts of Granny Weatherall in
language that Granny would
use if she were speaking. Because Granny is
disoriented, these thoughts
focus on present perceptions one moment and on old
memories the next. Her
perceptions and recollections favor her positive
view of herself.
Jilting of Granny Weatherall” was first published in
February 1929 in transition
(uncapitalized), an English-language literary
journal printed in Paris.
The publication featured experimental writing. A
year later, the story
was published in a collection of Porter's stories
Judas and Other Stories.
action takes place in a bedroom in the home of
Granny Weatherall's daughter
Cornelia. Granny, about eighty, is lying face up in
the bed. She is dying
of an undisclosed illness. The time is probably the
late 1920s. Flashbacks,
however, date as far back as the late 1860s, when
abandoned her on the day they were to be
Feisty woman of about eighty who ruminates about
events in her life as
she lies dying in the home of her daughter Cornelia.
Because of her illness,
she is lucid one moment and disoriented the next. A
painful memory, one
she had repressed for sixty years, surfaces and
haunts her at the hour
of her death. It is the memory of the day—sixty
years before—when her fiancé,
George, jilted her. After she later married a man
named John, she gave
birth to four children. John died young but Granny
carried on, rearing
the children, working her farmland and orchard, and
caring for animals.
of Granny. While her mother is on her deathbed,
Cornelia takes care of
Man who abandoned
Granny on the day he was to marry her.
Granny and, the narration says, the only child
Granny "really wanted."
The story implies that she has preceded her mother
Son of Granny.
Man whom Granny considers "worthless."
accompanies the doctor on a nighttime visit to
Roman Catholic priest who comes to give Granny the
church's last rites.
whom Granny wants to send six bottles of wine for
Man who lived to age 102. He attributed his
longevity to his practice of
drinking a hot toddy every day.
Harry feels Granny Weatherall's pulse, but she
pushes him away, saying,
“Get along now. Take your schoolbooks and go.
There’s nothing wrong with
me.” He then feels her forehead and tells her to be
sure to remain in bed.
he goes out, Granny closes her eyes but reopens them
when she hears Cornelia
and the doctor whispering.
was never like this, never like this!”
kindness and attentiveness annoy Granny, and she
pictures herself spanking
her daughter. Granny drowses, thinking she had had a
long day. There was
always something to be done. She reviews the chores
for the next day (perhaps
her way of putting her life in order before dying),
including folding laundry,
putting the pantry in order, dusting the bronze
clock. And then, the narrator
says, there was the business of the letters in the
attic: “George’s letters
and John’s letters and her letters to them
both—lying around for the children
to find afterwards made her uneasy.”
she was sixty, Granny began preparing for death by
visiting her children
and grandchildren, thinking it would be the last
they would see of her.
She made out her will, then got sick. But when she
recovered, she decided
to live on for a long time. Her father had made it
to a hundred and two,
claiming that a noggin of strong toddy each day
accounted for his longevity.
thought again of Cornelia, of how she would say,
“Don’t cross her, let
her have her way, she’s eighty years old.” Granny
had a mind to pack up
and go back to her own home so she wouldn't have to
put up with such nonsense.
As far as being old is concerned, Granny notes to
herself that Lydia still
drives eighty miles to ask for advice on handling
her children, and Jimmy
comes over to get her opinion on business matters.
She wishes see could
see her late husband, John, to point out what a good
job she did raising
the children. All the children are older than John
now. But after all the
work she had done—even digging post holes for
fences—he probably wouldn't
would be looking for a young woman with a peaked
Spanish comb in her hair
and the painted fan,” she thinks. "Digging post
holes changed a woman.
Riding country roads in the winter when women had
their babies was another
thing: sitting up nights with sick horses and sick
negroes and sick children
and hardly ever losing one.”
recalls other memories. About calling the children
in when a fog was creeping
over the orchard, then lighting the lamps in the
house so they didn't have
to be afraid anymore. About having them pick all the
fruit so nothing went
she remembers the day she was jilted. For sixty
years, the narrator says,
she had prayed against remembering George and now
the memory of him occupied
her as she was trying to rest. The narrator reports
what she is thinking:
“Wounded vanity, Ellen. . . . Don’t let your
wounded vanity get the
upper hand of you.”
comes in and tells her mother that the doctor has
arrived to look in on
left just five minutes ago,” Granny says.
Cornelia informs her he had last checked her in the
morning. It is now
night. A nurse has come in also. When Cornelia says
the doctor is going
to give her a hypodermic, Granny says she's been
seeing sugar ants in her
daughter Hapsy appears before her and says, “I
thought you’d never come”
(suggesting that Hapsy has already died and has
been waiting for her mother
in the afterworld). “You haven’t changed a
wants someone to find George. The narrator reveals
him and be sure to tell him I forgot him. I want him
to know I had my husband
just the same and my children and my house like any
other woman. A good
house too and a good husband that I loved and fine
children out of him.
Better than I had hoped for even. Tell him I was
given back everything
he took away and more. Oh, no, oh, God, no, there
was something else besides
the house and the man and the children. Oh, surely
they were not all? What
was it? Something not given back. . . .
Connolly, a Roman Catholic priest, arrives to give her
the last rites of
the church. Granny thinks about how he used to “drop
in and inquire about
her soul as if it were a teething baby, and then stay
on for a cup of tea
and a round of cards and gossip.” .......Granny
muses that she has no worries about her soul, for her
have already cleared her a path to heaven. Her eyes
open, and the light
is blue because of the color of the lampshades. The
narrator says Granny's
thoughts return to the day of the jilting: “What if he
did run away and
leave me to face the priest by myself? I found another
a whole world better.
I wouldn’t have exchanged my husband for anybody
except St. Michael himself.
. . .” .......Granny
sees the blue light flutter and die. Endless darkness
envelops her, and
she asks God for a sign. .......But,
the narrator says, there is no sign: "Again no
bridegroom and the priest
in the house. She could not remember any other sorrow
because this grief
wiped them all away. “ .......A
moment later she dies.
the title, jilting can refer not only to the
jilting of Granny by
George but also to Granny's belief that God has
jilted her. The name Weatherall
suggests that Granny believes she has weathered
all the adversities
of life. .
to Loss With Perseverance
overall theme of “The Jilting of Granny
Weatherall” is how one woman, Ellen
Weatherall, responds to loss by persevering.
First, her fiance, George,
abandoned her. Consequently, she lost not only her
future husband but also
a good measure of her self-esteem. Eventually, she
married a man named
John and bore him four children. But John died
young, leaving her to finish
rearing the children. Then one of the
children—Hapsy, her favorite—died,
too, after bearing a child of her own. Granny's
losses make their mark
on her, as the following passage indicates. In a
flashback, Granny is speaking
to her children. Note the boldfaced letters in red
that relate to the theme.
want you to pick all the fruit this year and see
nothing is wasted. There’s
always someone who can use it. Don’t let good
things rot for want of using.
You waste life when you waste good food. Don’t
let things get lost. It’s bitter to lose things.
lived up to her name by weathering all her losses.
She did so through her
feistiness, her strong will to carry on, and her
repression of the painful
memory of the day George jilted her. She is proud of
how well she faced
up to her responsibilities. The narrator says,
had been a hard pull, but not too much for her.
When she thought of all
the food she had cooked, and all the clothes she
had cut and sewed, and
all the gardens she had made—well, the children
showed it. There they were,
made out of her, and they couldn’t get away from
that. Sometimes she wanted
to see John again and point to them and say, Well,
I didn’t do so badly,
lies dying in the home of her daughter—facing still
the loss of her own life—the repressed memory of
George emerges to haunt
her deathbed ruminations. The moment comes when, in
her disoriented state,
her mind conjures the following scene: "A fog rose
over the valley, she
saw it marching across the creek swallowing the
trees and moving up the
hill like an army of ghosts. Soon it would be at the
near edge of the orchard,
and then it was time to go in and light the lamps.
Come in, children, don’t
stay out in the night air." .......In
vision of her past, she attempts to banish the
memory of George (the
fog) by taking the children inside and striking a
match to the oil lamps.
Her strategy succeeds for a moment, as the narrative
the lamps had been beautiful. The children huddled
up to her and breathed
like little calves waiting at the bars in the
twilight. Their eyes followed
the match and watched the flame rise and settle in a
blue curve, then they
moved away from her. The lamp was lit, they didn’t
have to be scared and
hang on to mother any more." .......But
memory of George comes back.
pillow rose about her shoulders and pressed
against her heart and the memory
was being squeezed out of it. . . . . 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
when she had just got
rid of Doctor Harry and was trying to rest a
minute. Wounded vanity, Ellen,
said a sharp voice in the top of her mind. Don’t
let your wounded vanity
get the upper hand of you. Plenty of girls get
jilted. You were jilted,
weren’t you? Then stand up to it.
slips away and dies, Granny thinks she is facing the
the loss of God Himself, as her internal monologue
indicates: "For a second
time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the
priest in the house.
She could not remember any other sorrow because this
grief wiped them all
away. Oh, no, there’s nothing more cruel than
this—I’ll never forgive it." .......Here,
responds with typical feistiness--"I'll never
forgive it." .......Death,
of facing and dealing with the memory of George's
jilting of her, Granny
represses it. For sixty years, she keeps it locked
in a deep recess in
her soul. To what extent her repression of this
memory impairs the quality
of her life is uncertain. In her deathbed
reflections, she seems to suggest
that she was better off without George: "What if
he did run away and leave
me to face the priest by myself? I found another a
whole world better.
I wouldn’t have exchanged my husband for anybody
except St. Michael himself.
. . . "
why does she keep his letters to her? Why does the
memory of him haunt
her at the end of her life?
in Christ's Footsteps
has many faults, not the least of which is
criticizing others. Nevertheless,
in her own way, she tries to follow in Christ's
footsteps. Consider, for
example, that Granny underwent a humiliating
public rejection when
George jilted her and that she suffered
through many trials, including
"riding country roads in the winter when women had
their babies" and "sitting
up nights with sick horses and sick negroes and
sick children." The suffering
and rejection endured by Granny call to mind this
Bible quotation: "[T]he
Son of man must suffer many things, and be
rejected by the
ancients and by the high priests" (Mark 8: 31).
perseverance and her faith in God enabled her to
come through her difficulties,
as she notes: "God, for all my life, I thank Thee.
Without Thee, my God,
I could never have done it." On her deathbed, she
has a notion that she
will even overcome her fatal illness: "She was strong,
in three days she would be as well as ever.
Better." This passage echoes
the following Bible passages:
. . . after
three days [He will] rise again. (Mark
. . said to them:
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will
raise it up. (John 2:19)
of man must be
delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be
crucified, and the third
day rise again. (Luke 24:7)
the last moment of her life, Granny believes God has
forsaken her, saying
to herself, "Again no bridegroom
and the priest in
the house." This passage calls to mind words spoken
by Christ on the cross:
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud
voice, saying: Eli, Eli,
lamma sabacthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast
thou forsaken me?"
(Matthew 27:46). .......When
dies, the narrator says, she "stretched herself with
a deep breath
and blew out the light." Of Christ's last moment,
John 19:30 reports, "Jesus
said 'it is finished.' With that he bowed his head
and gave up his spirit."
her deathbed reflections, Granny resents
Cornelia's doting presence. Consider
the following passage:
was like Cornelia to whisper around doors. She
always kept things secret
in such a public way. She was always being tactful
and kind. Cornelia was
dutiful; that was the trouble with her. Dutiful
and good: “So good and
dutiful,” said Granny, “that I’d like to spank
her.” She saw herself spanking
Cornelia and making a fine job of it.
asks Granny whether she wants anything, Granny
replies, “I do. I want a
lot of things. First off, go away and don’t
whisper.” The narration later
could just hear Cornelia telling her husband that
Mother was getting a
little childish and they’d have to humor her. The
thing that most annoyed
her was that Cornelia thought she was deaf, dumb,
and blind. Little hasty
glances and tiny gestures tossed around here and
over her head saying,
“Don’t cross her, let her have her way, she’s
eighty years old,” and she
sitting there as if she lived in a thin glass
cage. Sometimes granny almost
made up her mind to pack up and move back to her
own house where nobody
could remind her every minute that she was old.
Wait, wait, Cornelia, till
your own children whisper behind your back!
interpret Granny's resentment of Cornelia as a sign
that she is the daughter
of George and therefore a constant reminder of
the other hand, is a favorite of Granny. A possible
reason for her favored
position is that she may have been the second of
Granny's children and
the first born to John. Hapsy's birth thus would
have been a declaration
of independence from George, whom Granny wished to
banish from her mind.
Granny would be able to say, "I have my own child
now and a husband who
stands by me. I don't need George." .......But
Hapsy the second child? There's a good chance that
she was. In one of her
internal monologues, Granny says, "When this
one [Hapsy] was born it should be the last. The
last. It should have been
born first, for it was the one she had truly
wanted." Notice that the first
sentence says should be last, not was
last, and that the
second says should have been born first, not
was born first.
Therefore, Hapsy was either the second or third
and the Questions It Raises
climax occurs when Granny cannot perceive the
presence of God as she lapses
toward death. Among the possible reasons Granny
believes God is "jilting"
her are the following:
abandonment of her so damaged her self-esteem
that she now believes she
is not worthy of heaven. Although Granny asserts
in her musings that she
has weathered the hurt George caused, clearly
the jilting has had a long-term
effect. "For sixty years," the narrator says,
"she had prayed against remembering
him." Her prayers are an acknowledgment that the
memory of George has remained
firmly lodged in her mind.
a sin that she believes has jeopardized her
salvation. For example, it
is possible that she became pregnant with
George's baby, then hurriedly
married John after the jilting to avoid the
stigma of bearing a child out
of wedlock. Having sexual relations outside
marriage is a grave sin in
Roman Catholicism. Of course, she no doubt would
have confessed her sin
and performed penance, but she could have
experienced lingering guilt.
It may be, too, that she wronged John by
allowing him to believe that all
of the children were his.
has muddled her thinking.
experiencing a normal fear of death and the
inability of humans to grasp
fully the concept of God.
are examples of figures of speech in the
of a consonant
the lamps had been
as surely signed
as the papers for
the new forty
that is the
opposite of what is expected
Granny, “Oh, is there anything you want to tell me?
Is there anything I
can do for you?” Granny responds with these
thoughts: "Yes, she had changed
her mind after sixty years and she would like to see
George. I want you
to find George. Find him and be sure to tell him I
Granny's desire to
find George contradicts her assertion that she has
forgotten him--a bit
of humor that lightens the deathbed
Metaphor Comparison of
without using like, as, or than
down under her ribs and grew into a monstrous
frightening shape with cutting
edges. (Comparison of breath to an object with sharp
Onomatopoeia Word that
imitates a sound
the leaves rustling
outside the window.
No, somebody was swishing
that is actually true
things secretin such a public way.
Simile Comparison of
using like, as, or than
had cursed like
a sailor’s parrot. (Comparison of a human to a
Fact About the Author
an interview with Barbara Thompson (Writers at
Work, 1963) Katherine
Anne Porter said she always wrote the last paragraph
of a story first,
then backed up and wrote about all of the events
leading up to the events
described in the last paragraph. It was important
for her to know the destination
of her literary journey first so that she could set
a course (like sailors
and airline pilots) leading to the
Questions and Essay
says she prayed for sixty years to forget George.
Why, then, did she keep
is Granny concerned about the letters in the attic?
indicates in her deathbed reflections that she loved
John. Did she really?
Or was she simply trying to persuade herself that
the following quotation from the story:
him and be
sure to tell him I forgot him. I want him to know I
had my husband just
the same and my children and my house like any other
woman. A good house
too and a good husband that I loved and fine
children out of him. Better
than I had hoped for even. Tell him I was given back
everything he took
away and more. Oh, no, oh, God, no, there was
something else besides the
house and the man and the children. Oh, surely they
were not all? What
was it? Something not given back. . . .
opinion, what was the
"something not given back"? 5...Write
a pyschological portraint of Granny. Include research
from the story and
other sources to support your thesis. 6...Why
wasn't Granny in a hospital? 7...Granny
everyone. After all, everyone struggles against
of faith, hope, love, respect, self-esteem,
prestige, loyalty, power, money,
mental health, physical health, and even trivial
objects such as car keys.
The trick is to persevere. Write an essay about a
loss (or losses) you
suffered and what you did to carry on. . .