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 her life, taking pleasure in the thought”that a person could spread out the plan of life and tuck the edges in orderly.” But it is not long before she finds “death in her mind and it felt clammy and unfamiliar.” The presence of death in her thoughts causes her to recall an earlier time when she thought she was dying and how she had spent too much time preparing for it. This time she considers “all the food she had cooked, and all the clothes she had cut and sewed, and all the gardens she had made”‘ and declares herself satisfied. She imagines asking her late husband, “Well, I didn’t do so badly, did I?”
Like an unwelcome guest, the memory of the day when she was jilted interrupts Granny Weatherall’s reflections. As she rests against her pillow she is transported back to the day when “she has put on the white veil and set out the white cake for a man” who never arrived. Although “for sixty years she had prayed against remembering him,” she decides now as her children hover around her that she wants to settle things with George, the truant bridegroom. What she wants is to even their accounts, to tell him “I got my husband just the same and my children and my house just like any other woman.” The memory of that day “when the cake was not cut, but thrown out and wasted” is so powerful that sixty years later she seems to relive the moment. Her memory recalls when “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.”
The border between past and present, living and dead, becomes even more blurred in the final pages of the story and the final minutes of Granny Weatherall’s life. While the priest gives her last rights, Granny slips closer to death and the sights and sounds in the room mingle with her memories. When she grasps her son’s thumb, she realizes this is the moment of death. As “the blue light from Cornelia’s lampshade drew into a tiny point in the center of her brain,” Granny asks God for “a sign,” some reassurance about the afterlife. But “for the second time there was no sign.” Granny Weatherall is jilted once again in a betrayal that is so monumental that it makes the first incident seem insignificant. “She could not remember any other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away.”
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.