Character in Katherine Anne Porter's The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
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Character in Katherine Anne Porter's “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”
“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” a short story by Katherine Anne Porter, describes the last thoughts, feelings, and memories of an elderly woman. As Granny Weatherall’s life literally “flashes” before her eyes, the importance of the title of the story becomes obvious. Granny Weatherall has been in some way deceived or disappointed in every love relationship of her life. Her past lover George, husband John, daughter Cornelia, and God all did an injustice by what Porter refers to as “jilting.” This unending cycle of wrongdoing caused Granny to be a mixture of strength, bitterness, and ultimate fear as she faces her last moments in life.
Granny gained her strength by the people that she felt jilted by. George stood Granny up at the altar. He never showed at all and it is never stated that she heard from him again. The pain forced Granny to be strong as is proven by her thoughts when she is asked if anything could be done for her. “ I want you to find George. Find 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… Tell him I was given back everything he took away and more” (Porter 584). Granny did marry a man named John, but her strength was again tested when he died at a young age, leaving her to raise their children on her own. “Sometimes she wanted to see John again and point to them and say, well, I didn’t do so badly did I?” (582). She had been strong enough to carry the burden of two lost loves and raise good children at the same time.
It was one of these children, Cornelia, who made her act somewhat bitterly in her last days. With her daughter whispering about her and saying she should be humored at her old age, Granny felt like she had been in some way betrayed. “It was strange about children. They disputed your every word” (584). She felt like Cornelia was treating her like a child. “The thing that most annoyed her was that Cornelia thought she was deaf, dumb, and blind. Little hasty glances and tiny gestures tossed around her 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 thick glass cage” (582).
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Katherine Anne Porter Granny Weatherall Other Woman Young Age
These gestures and whispers made Granny feel as though Cornelia had jilted her too.
In her most final moments, as she felt herself slipping into death, she could not find a sign of God, George, or John to welcome her. Not only was she jilted in life by the two most important people in it, but also in death and by the most important man-figure of all, God. “Granny lay…staring at the point of light that was herself; her body was now only a deeper mass of shadow in an endless darkness and this darkness would curl around the light and swallow it up. God, give a sign!” (586). She had once again been left at the altar, but this time, the altar of death. “For the 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…there’s nothing more cruel than this-I’ll never forgive it” (588).
In life and in death, Granny Weatherall has been jilted and therefore made strong, bitter, and fearful. One must wonder that with these three characteristics in life, she must have due a great compensation in the afterlife. The greatest wrongdoing was that having been promised a Heaven, an eternal life, and Granny was once again left alone.
Porter, Katherine Anne. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2000.
With her gruff appearance and ornery temper, Granny Weatherall makes Oscar the Grouch look charming. From the moment we first meet her on her deathbed, vehemently insisting that she doesn't need anyone's help thank you very much, this lady seems tough as nails. When we probe beneath Granny's surface (scalpel, please), we see someone quite sensitive and vulnerable, someone capable of being hurt. The juxtaposition between Granny's inner and outer self makes her a fascinatingly complex character totally worthy of our consideration. Congratulations on that, Granny.
Granny the Grouch
Let's take a closer look at the exact nature of Granny's grouchiness. In one of her crankiest moments, Granny berates Doctor Harry, telling him:
Leave a well woman alone. I'll call you for you when I want you. . .Where were you forty years ago when I pulled through milk-leg and double pneumonia? [. . .] I pay my own bills, and I don't throw my money away on nonsense! (7).
Granny shows us loud and clear that she likes to be in control and doesn't like to depend on others. She assures the doctor that she'll be the one to call when she wants him, that she takes care of her own bills, and that she's perfectly capable of surviving this illness on her own.
Yup, as other critics like Laurence A. Becker and Caroline Collins have noted, Granny is definitely a bit of a control freak. We get a taste of this once we're inside her head:
Things were finished somehow when the time came; thank God there was always a little margin over for peace: then a person could spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges orderly. It was good to have everything clean and folded away, with the hair brushes and tonic bottles sitting straight on the white embroidered linen. . . (17).
Judging from this snippet of her consciousness, Granny wants to have about as much control over her life as she does over her closet. This is also why she's so eager to get rid of that box of steamy love letters (We don't know if they're steamy or not, but it's more fun to assume that they are.). She seems to want to have control over the way her children see her, as we can tell from her remark:
No use to let them know how silly she had been once (17).
It seems like whenever Granny's sense of control over her life or her independence is threatened, she gets super cranky. We can see this reflected in her interactions with Doctor Harry, as well as in her sour refusals of Cornelia's offers to help.
But where, pray tell, is Granny's obsession with control and independence coming from? Well, we're about to get some front row seats right inside Granny's head so we can try and find out.
We know from Granny's recollections of her life that she's had to go through some pretty tough stuff. Of course, being left at the altar is definitely one of the top contenders for Crappiest Moment in Granny's Life. Take a look at exactly how she describes the feeling of being jilted:
Since the day the wedding cake was not cut, but thrown out and wasted. The whole bottom dropped out of the world, and there she was blind and sweating with nothing under her feet and the walls falling away (49).
This passage reflects Granny's sense of being totally unstable, or out of control, in the moment she realized George was a no-show at the wedding. Pay careful attention to the phrases "the whole bottom dropped out of the world" and "nothing under her feet." It's no wonder that since the jilting, her whole life has been focused on avoiding that feeling of being out of control.
Similarly, it makes sense that after having been so deeply harmed by someone else, Granny would be wary of making herself vulnerable to or dependent on others. She remembers that aside from the jilting, George was a pretty decent guy:
He never harmed me but in that (29).
We might say that Granny's life has been a quest to restore the order that was disrupted on the day of the jilting. Granny recalls:
There was the day, the day, but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That was hell, she knew hell when she saw it (29).
But, hey now, let's not blame everything on the guy.
Unfortunately, life brought Granny other traumas, like losing a child, that have only reinforced her fear of losing control over her life. The audience is told very little about Hapsy, Granny's presumed dead daughter. We're not actually told that Hapsy was Granny's long-dead daughter, but we can piece together clues to make an informed guess about who this person is, like the fact that Granny looks forward to seeing her after death. Details aside, we don't need to be told much about Hapsy to conclude that losing a child probably made Granny feel helpless and out of control.
So we (and Dr. Phil) might say that Granny's developed a tough exterior in order to protect herself from the pain that can sometimes happen when we make ourselves vulnerable to others. Granny's character demonstrates one of the key ideas of this whole story—that it's incredibly difficult to know a person based only on the impression they project to us.
As readers, we're in a lucky position to be able to go into Granny's head and gain a little more insight into her tough appearance. It really makes you wonder how well you know the people around you in your own life, even the ones you think you know pretty well. Sure, you could maybe peek into their diaries, but we here at Shmoop do not condone that sort of snooping. Only shmooping. But we digress; back to Granny.
If we're being totally honest, it's hard to say that we really even "know" Granny, given how incomprehensible some of her thoughts are to us (this is an observation often made by readers and critics about Modernist literature).
It's important to note that even though we can't fully understand some of Granny's thoughts, this isn't a failing on the author's part. No way. If anything, it's a pretty brilliant way of showing how difficult it is to truly know another person given just how weird and complex these minds of ours are.Timeline