Fate and Determinism
In “King of the Bingo Game,” Ralph Ellison explores the relationship between man and fate. The bingo wheel represents the ‘ ‘Wheel of Fortune,” an ancient image used to depict man’s position among the fates. The concept of the wheel attempts to explain how a person can be fortunate and prosperous one day and destitute the next by positing that people are on a wheel, moving up and down unpredictably. This concept holds that any person who is experiencing difficulties should persevere because eventually that position will reverse. For the Bingo King, though, the Wheel is a joke that does not fulfill its assigned role. The Bingo King has been perpetually on the bottom. When the story opens, he is almost penniless, he is new to an unfamiliar and unfriendly city, and his wife is dying. He attempts to stack the odds in his favor by buying five bingo cards, but when that plan succeeds he is . . . Read More
The Bingo Caller
The bingo caller is the man who calls out the bingo numbers and who acts as the master of ceremonies. When the Bingo King wins the chance to spin the wheel, the caller introduces him and makes fun of his rural upbringing. At first the caller is amused by the King’s refusal to relinquish the button, but then he gets angry at the King’s demand to remain in control. The caller represents the low-level forces of authority: he does not make the rules, but he must enforce them.
The Bingo King
The Bingo King, the protagonist of the story, remains unnamed throughout. As the story opens, he is watching a movie for the fourth time, enjoying a scene in which a woman is tied down to a bed. However, his mind is also troubled by thoughts of his sick wife. The Bingo King is originally from the South, and as he sits in the movie theater he thinks about the difference between his . . . Read More
“King of the Bingo Game” opens with a man sitting in a movie theater watching a movie he has already seen. He is hungry, and he can smell the peanuts that the woman in front of him is eating. Readers are able to access his thoughts as he envisions being in the South where he could ask the woman for a peanut and she would give him one. He also thinks the same thing about a pair of men who are on his right, drinking wine. He is broke and his wife, Laura, is sick and dying. Watching the movie, he thinks about how the characters in the movie are able to escape their predicaments, but he is not. He also thinks of what would happen if the woman in the movie were to take off her clothes.
He falls asleep and dreams that he is back in the South, where he lived when he was a boy. He dreams that a train is bearing down on him. Although he jumps off the tracks, the train follows him onto the highway and down the street. He wakes up screaming, and an old man next to him . . . Read More
In her essay “The Eye of the Story,” fellow southern writer and critic Eudora Welty observes that “most good stories are about the interior of our lives, but Katherine Anne Porter’s stories take place there; they surface only at her choosing.” “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is certainly one of these interior stories, as Porter uses Ellen Weatherall’ s fragile state of mind as a narrative device to connect past and present and the living and the dead.
While “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is told by a third person narrator, readers are drawn into the mind of Ellen Weatherall and come to see the events of the story from her perspective. Readers laugh along with her, for example, when she teases the doctor about his youth. Gradually, however, Ellen’s grasp of reality slips off its moorings and she begins to journey back into her past. Readers are able to travel along with Ellen Weatherall as her . . . Read More
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
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Early in her career, Porter came to be admired as an innovative and masterful stylist. In “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” she uses experimental, modernist narrative techniques in creating a moving and believable portrait of an eighty-year-old woman on her deathbed.
Narration One of the most striking stylistic aspects of “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is its unusual narrative perspective. Though the story is written in the third person, its narrative point of view is extremely close to that of the central character, Granny Weatherall. The story is told through stream-of-consciousness. Granny’s thoughts are presented in a spontaneous fashion, as if readers had access to her thoughts at the moment each one occurs to her. Porter conveys what it is like to be an eighty-year-old woman whose mind tends to wander by enabling readers to experience some of the same confusion Granny . . . Read More
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 . . . Read More
George is the man who jilted Granny Weatherall, abandoning her at the altar on what was to be their wedding day when she was twenty. She eventually married another man, had a family, and convinced herself that she had put the pain of being “jilted” behind her. However, she kept letters from George in her attic all her life, and sixty years later his memory still has the power to upset her.
Hapsy is the youngest and apparently the favorite of Granny Weatherall’s daughters—”the one she had truly wanted.” Yet Hapsy also seems to cause her mother the greatest disappointment. Granny Weatherall asks for Hapsy five times during the story, but Hapsy never comes to her mother’s deathbed. In her delirious state of mind, Granny mistakes her other daughters, Cornelia and Lydia, for Hapsy. At one point, Granny seems to confuse even herself with Hapsy, as a memory of Hapsy . . . Read More
The setting for “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is the bedroom where Granny Weatherall is dying, though most of the action occurs in Granny’s head. Told as a stream-of-consciousness monologue, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is the story of the last day in the eighty-year-old woman’s life. In her final hours with her surviving children around her bed, Granny Weatherall reconsiders her life and ponders her impending death. Almost against her will, her thoughts return to an incident that occurred more than sixty years earlier: She was left standing alone at the altar when her fiance George jilted her.
Katherine Anne Porter gradually reveals the details of the jilting through Granny Weatherall “s fragmented recollections. In Granny Weatherall’s semi-conscious state, the past mingles with the present and people and objects take on new forms and identities. After the doctor leaves her alone, Granny Weatherall takes stock of . . . Read More
“I Stand Here Ironing” is the first story in Tillie Olsen’s awarding-winning collection, Tell Me a Riddle, which was first published in 1961 when Olsen was in her late forties. In this story, which is considered her most autobiographical, Olsen breaks new literary ground in creating the voice of the mother-narrator and in crafting a narrative structure that mirrors as well as describes female experience. Like the four other stories in the collection,”I Stand Here Ironing” portrays the “aching hardships of poverty and the themes of exile or exclusion.” This story, according to critics Mickey Pearlman and Abby Werlock in Tillie Olsen, “presents us with the inexorable riddle of human existence: it paradoxically comprises not merely the endurance of poverty, bigotry, illness, and pain but the ultimate ability to transcend these.”
Olsen is one of those authors whose life is so integral to her writing that any reading of . . . Read More