1. There was the day . . . but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That was hell. . . . For sixty years she had prayed against remembering him and against losing her soul in the deep pit of hell. . . .
For a woman who prizes order above all things, disorder and confusion can be tormenting. Granny conceives of her planned life as a field “planted so carefully in orderly rows” and of George as a demon of chaos, a creeping, whirling cloud of smoke that covers her tidy field. His failure to show up at the church is disastrous for Granny not only because it humiliates her and robs her of the man she loves, but also because it throws her carefully planned future into disarray. This passage also illustrates the effects of Granny’s state of constant denial. Granny has tried to forget George entirely for the past sixty years. The narrator suggests that Granny feared thinking about George because it would throw her into “the deep pit of hell,” a state of rage, envy, or depression. These lines make it clear, however, that she has failed to eradicate him from her thoughts.
2. For the second time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away. Oh, no, there’s nothing more cruel than this—I’ll never forgive it. She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light.
In this passage, which ends the short story, Granny is jilted for a second time. Just as George never came to the church to marry her, God does not come to meet her in death. Wry and strong to the end, Granny notes the similarity between the situations: then, as now, there was “no bridegroom,” and she was left with a priest. Granny’s state of denial persists until the final moment of her life, and she feels that she’ll never forgive this betrayal. This refusal is predicated on the assumption, which she now knows to be false, that there is an afterlife that will allow her to be conscious and capable of holding a grudge. It’s possible to interpret this passage as an admonitory lesson on the oblivion that awaits people who, like Granny, treat religion lightly. However, many people read this passage to mean that everyone will die like Granny because there is no afterlife and that we’ll all be jilted at the altar of death.
Take a Study Break!