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
The Great Depression
The narrator of “I Stand Here Ironing” describes her daughter as “a child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear.” Though the story was published in 1961, it too has been seen as having ties to the Depression era and to the socially conscious literature of the thirties. Regardless of whether Olsen’s work in 1961 bears much resemblance to writings from the 1930s, the Great Depression remained very much a part of the American psyche long after the decade was over. Even during the more prosperous 1950s and 1960s, many people still remembered the severe deprivations caused by the country’s disastrous economic collapse in the 1930s and lived in fear of repeating the experience. Differences in values present in those old enough to remember the Depression years and values held by children too young to remember those years have been cited as a major cause of the “generation gap” that . . . Read More
Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” tells the story of a mother’s relationship with her eldest daughter in a stark and dramatic fashion that has impressed critics and fellow writers with its originality and accessibility. The story is told entirely in the voice of the mother, but nonetheless manages to convey a dynamic relationship between two believable characters without resorting to cliche and sentimentality.
Structure and Point of View
The story is told through the interior monologue of an unnamed mother as she irons her daughter Emily’s dress. The catalyst for the monologue appears to be a request from an unspecified source, perhaps a school guidance counselor, for help in understanding the narrator’s troubled daughter. The monologue consists of the narrator’s fantasies, presented in a stream-of-consciousness manner, about what she might say in response to such a . . . Read More
In Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing,” an unnamed narrator reflects on her somewhat distant relationship with her eldest daughter. It is a story about the search—by both mother and daughter—for individual identity despite the limitations imposed by a history of poverty and other social constraints. While it examines the difficulties a mother and daughter have in finding identities separate from one another and independent from social expectations about women, it raises questions about the nature of intimacy itself.
The Search for Identity
The issue of the boundary between the individual identities of the mother and daughter is raised early in the story. The narrator seems disturbed by the idea of being asked to help someone understand her daughter:”You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key? She has lived for nineteen years. There is all that life that has . . . Read More
Nineteen-year-old Emily is the eldest child of the narrator. Her mother regrets much about Emily’s upbringing, saying: “She was a child seldom smiled at.” Her father deserted the family less than a year after her birth, during the worst of the Depression. While her mother struggled to make ends meet, young Emily was handed over to a variety of temporary caretakers. As young girl, Emily was considered homely—”thin and dark and foreignlooking at a time when every little girl was supposed to look or thought she should look a chubby blonde replica of Shirley Temple”—and she became shy and passive. After her mother’s second marriage, Emily was eclipsed by her younger, more self-assured half-sister Susan. To her mother’s surprise, Emily has developed a talent for comedic acting—a “deadly clowning”—which wins her an audience, but she seems to lack motivation. At the end of the story, . . . Read More
Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” is a monologue, a speech delivered by a narrator with whom the reader comes to identify. In the first few lines the narrator explains what she is doing—ironing—and what she is responding to—a request that she meet with a school official about her daughter, now nineteen years old. The occasion prompts her to recall her daughter’s childhood and the effect she had on the girl as her mother. All the while she continues to iron, drawing parallels for herself and the reader between telling the story and ironing the wrinkles from a dress.
At the outset the mother confesses her powerlessness over her daughter, asking “You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key?” She is worried that if she is asked to recall those early days of parenting she “will become engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what cannot be . . . Read More