The Jilting of Granny Weatherall by Katherine Anne Porter
In The Jilting of Granny Weatherall by Katherine Anne Porter we have the theme of loss, regret, rejection, acceptance, letting go, perseverance, paralysis and denial. Taken from her Flowering Judas and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator however there does appear to be sections of the story which are written using the narrative technique known as stream of consciousness. Which may lead some readers to suspect that part of the story is narrated in the first person. It is also after reading the story that the reader realises that Porter may be exploring the theme of loss. Not only has Granny lost George and her husband John but she has also lost a daughter, Hapsy. It is while Granny is lying in bed (dying) that the reader also senses that Granny continues to have regrets about her life. Despite the suggestion (by Granny) that she has moved on from the fact that George has rejected her (and that she has found happiness with John) the reader is left suspecting that Granny has never fully accepted that George has abandoned her. If anything Granny appears to be unable to let go of the past or at least appears to be in denial about how important George was to her and how his abandonment of her has affected her life. It may also be important that for most of the story, despite the doctor being called and the priest coming to the house, Granny does not appear to accept that she is dying. If anything, Granny appears to be in denial. Just as she may deny the impact that the loss of George has had on her life, Granny also appears to be in denial about the fact that she is dying.
Some critics have also suggested that Cornelia may not be John’s daughter (that she may be George’s daughter) and that Granny may have been pregnant at the time that George abandoned her. At the time the story was written many women who became pregnant out of wedlock ended up getting married, though did not necessarily marry the father of their unborn child. Such was the social stigma that existed (again at the time the story was written) that many women rather than face exclusion from society married in order to remain accepted by society. If this is the case and Cornelia is not John’s daughter it is possible that the harshness that Granny displays towards Cornelia throughout the story is due to the fact that Cornelia is a constant reminder to Granny of George. Despite not wanting to think about George, Granny has never been able to do so. Cornelia will always remind her of George.
Porter may also be using the setting of the story to explore the theme of paralysis. The entire story is set in Granny’s bedroom and at no stage does Granny leave her bed. It is possible that Porter is highlighting, at least symbolically, the paralysis that exists in Granny’s life. Just as she makes no or very little physical movement in the story likewise Granny makes no movement emotionally or mentally. Throughout the story she is rooted to her past and the loss she feels after George has jilted her. There is also some other symbolism (apart from the setting) which may also be important. Granny’s surname (Weatherall) may have some symbolic significance. It is possible that by giving Granny her name Porter is suggesting that Granny has ‘weathered all’, that she has despite the difficulties and losses she has incurred in her life (losing George, John and Hapsy) persevered. Though this may be true (that Granny has persevered) the reader is still left with a sense that Granny has repressed her feelings about how she felt after George abandoned her. There is also some religious symbolism in the story which may be important. In Granny’s bedroom there is a crucifix and as Granny is lying in bed she is holding some rosary beads. It is possible that by introducing the crucifix and rosary beads (particularly when they fall out of Granny’s hand) that Porter is suggesting that just as Granny has been jilted by George, likewise as she is dying instead of being accepted by God, Granny may also feel that she is being rejected by God. Granny appears to be waiting for a sign from God, though this sign never comes.
Porter also appears to be using the colour blue to symbolise different times or stages in Granny’s life. Granny can remember when she was married to John the ‘pantry shelves laid out with rows of jelly glasses and brown jugs and white stone-china jars with blue whirligigs and words painted on them.’ This line may be important as it suggests there was a time in Granny’s life when there was some order or when she may have been in control. Later in the story the reader also learns that when Granny would light the lamp her children’s ‘eyes followed the match and watched the flame rise and settle in a blue curve, then they moved away from her. The lamp was lit, they didn’t have to be scared and hang on to mother any more.’ This line may also be important as it suggests that there was a time in Granny’s life when her children needed her, that she was (or felt) wanted. Later in the story Porter also tells the reader as Granny is thinking of the time that George jilted her that ‘her eyelids wavered and let in streamers of blue-gray light like tissue paper over her eyes.’ It would appear that on this occasion Porter is using the colour blue to highlight a time in Granny’s life when she felt troubled.
Porter continues to use the colour blue (again as symbolism for different times or stages in Granny’s life) when she tells the reader about the photograph of John that is sitting on the dresser. Granny notices that John’s eyes were ‘very black when they should have been blue.’ It is possible that through this imagery (or change of colour) that Porter is suggesting or highlighting to the reader the fact that Granny may regret that she married John rather than George. If this is the case then it would again suggest that Granny has never really let go of George. Porter uses the colour blue again further on in the story. Just as Granny is dying the ‘blue light from Cornelia’s lampshade drew into a tiny point in the center of her brain, it flickered and winked like an eye, quietly it fluttered and dwindled.’ Just as the light has ‘dwindled’, Granny’s life is also coming to an end.
The end of the story is also interesting as Porter appears to be further exploring the theme of letting go (or rather the inability to let go) and loss. Just before Granny blows the light out Porter tells the narrator ‘again no bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away.’ This line may be significant as it suggests that though she is about to die, Granny remains fixed on the fact that George has jilted her and that despite everything else that has happened in her life (losing John and Hapsy) it is the loss of George that Granny is affected by the most. She still appears to be unable to let go or accept that John has abandoned her, despite her life coming to an end.