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The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

Katherine Ann Porter

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Analysis of Major Characters

Dialogue

Themes

The Usefulness of Denial

Granny Weatherall is a woman in deep denial about the basic truths of her life and character. She refuses to believe that she is dying and that she never got over the man who jilted her at the altar. The story opens with her insistence that Doctor Harry should run along and stop wasting his time on someone who is not actually sick. As the narrative progresses, Granny tells herself repeatedly that she had a wonderful life with John and has forgotten George completely. Of course, her fixation on George makes it plain that she hasn’t forgotten him at all, but she can’t admit this essential fact to herself. Granny also doesn’t see that she treats Cornelia harshly and won’t admit that she regrets certain aspects of her life. She won’t concede that her confusion is the result of her illness and not the fault of everyone around her.

Granny’s state of denial is both a handicap and a necessity. If self-knowledge is a goal worth pursuing, it is one that Granny fails to achieve before her death. She seems to know little about herself and how she has lived her life. In addition, Granny’s state of denial imposes hardships on those around her. It seems clear that her children have suffered at her hands. Because Granny won’t admit even to herself that she has been hard on them, they never get the satisfaction of an apology or at least an acknowledgment of her failings from her. At the same time, however, Granny’s deep-seated denial is what has enabled her to continue living, thrive, raise healthy children, and even save the lives of sick people and animals. She is not an inward-looking woman by nature, and it’s possible that any slip into self-analysis would plunge Granny into despair. By simply refusing to acknowledge the persistence of her pain and ignoring the fact that she is permanently broken-hearted, Granny has managed to put her head down and soldier through her life.

Motifs

Waste

The fear of wasting food, which recurs in “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” suggests Granny’s fear of wasting life. As if rehearsing a speech that she wants to deliver to her children or turning to address the readers, Granny lies in bed silently exhorting an unnamed “you” to make sure that all the fruit gets picked and none of it goes to waste. She goes on to warn against losing things. These commands are partly practical in that Granny has had to support a family on not much money and has done that by using everything she can. The commands also show Granny’s nervousness about squandering life itself. She seems to worry that she has wasted her own life and doesn’t want her children to waste theirs by frittering away what is most important. Later, Granny thinks of her wedding cake, which went to waste after George stood her up at the altar. Her anxiety about this uneaten food suggests her sadness over wasting—losing—the man whom she loved best. On some level, Granny fears that because she lost her true love, the life she went on to live was a waste.

Symbols

The Color Blue

Blue symbolizes the various stages of Granny Weatherall’s life. The color is first introduced when Granny recalls her glory days of running a tidy, organized household. She visualizes the neatness of the white jars labeled in blue letters that identify their contents, such as coffee, tea, and sugar. This blue symbolizes the time at which Granny’s youthful energy enabled her to act as head of the household. The blue letters on the white jars suggest order, just as at this stage of her life Granny was able to impose order. Blue recurs when Granny remembers the way her children watched her light the lamps at night, leaving her once the flame “settle[d] in a blue curve.” This blue symbolizes the transitional moment in Granny’s life during which her children, after drawing comfort from her strength, stopped needing her and were able to go off into the world on their own.

As Granny looks back on the way she was jilted and exhorts herself to be strong, “streamers of blue-gray light” fall on her eyes, frustrating her and making her worry that she will have nightmares. These bands of light stand for the stage in Granny’s life when trouble poured down on her against her will. A hidden blue exists underneath a picture of John: a photographer made Granny’s husband’s eyes black, instead of the blue they were in real life. Granny agrees that the picture is attractive but says it doesn’t depict her husband. This blue-turned-black symbolizes a stage in Granny’s life that seemed to last for the duration of her marriage, during which she felt, despite her contentment, that she was married to the wrong man, instead of the one who was originally meant to be her husband. As Granny lies in bed, she thinks about the foolishness of Cornelia’s lampshades, which turn the light blue. This time, blue suggests the point in Granny’s life at which the world has passed her by. At last, blue becomes the color of the light in Granny’s own mind, the light she snuffs out herself. It comes to symbolize the final stage of Granny’s life, when she is easing into death.

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