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 feels. Since Granny sometimes mistakes one daughter for another, for example, the characters in the story sometimes dissolve and become other characters. Because Granny’s awareness slips back and forth between her present reality and her remembered past, events in the story are presented as they occur to Granny rather than chronologically.
Symbolism and Allusion
The disjointed way in which the story is told gives it a poetic, dreamlike quality and enables its author to juxtapose certain recurring motifs and images. Much of Granny’s reminiscing about the past seems to be triggered by people and events in her present. The untidiness of the room in her daughter’s house where she is lying, for example, reminds Granny of her own housekeeping, which reminds her of the box of letters in her attic that she has been intending to go through and of the man, George, who wrote some of those letters. As certain images appear and reappear throughout the story, they take on more associations with the events of Granny’s life and acquire multi-layered, symbolic significance. The dust Granny worries about as it gathers on the objects around her, for example, could be seen as representing the disorder in Granny’s life and the painful memories she has tried unsuccessfully to sweep away.
The layers of meaning within some of the recurring images in the story are multiplied since they allude to motifs from the Bible. As the story’s title suggests, the most significant of these are those associated with Granny’s “jilting.” The story returns to Granny’s abortive wedding day most vividly, perhaps, when her daughter Cornelia announces that a priest has come to visit. His arrival seems to trigger Granny’s memories of the day when “the bottom dropped out of the world” and she found herself being supported by the arms of a man offering to kill the fiance who had failed to show up. It appears that Granny, on her deathbed, is once again left alone waiting in vain for the arrival of a loved one—in this case her daughter Hapsy—with only the inadequate comfort offered to her by a priest. Parallels between Granny’s situation and that of the “foolish brides” in the biblical parable in which Christ is compared to a bridegroom are suggested in the story’s last paragraph: “Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house.”
The symbols and allusions in the story are constructed so that they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Granny can be judged as a woman who, like the “foolish brides,” has not accepted Christ and for whom death therefore represents a spiritual and physical collapse. Another interpretation views the closing reference to the biblical parable as a product of Granny’s own imagination as she reflects on her life and judges herself. The subtlety of Porter’s art lies in the fact that she offers no definitive answer to questions of interpretation. Porter leaves readers with a portrait of a woman facing death who is confronting the unanswerable questions of life.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Katherine Anne Porter, Published by Gale, 1997.