26 pages 52 minutes read

Katherine Anne Porter

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1929

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Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”

“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is a short story written by American author Katherine Anne Porter and first published in 1930 as part of Porter’s short story collection Flowering Judas, and Other Stories. Set in the final moments of the title character’s life, the narrative explores her emotions and memories, as well as her struggle to cope with mortality. Written during the Modernist movement, which sought to break away from traditional literary forms and explore new narrative techniques, themes, and perspectives, the story uses a stream-of-consciousness narration (See: Literary Devices) to reflect the fragmented and subjective nature of human experience.

This study guide refers to the Full Reads e-book edition; all citations refer to paragraph number.

The story begins with Granny Weatherall lying in bed, surrounded by her family and Doctor Harry. She bickers with the doctor, telling him to focus his attentions on those who need them rather than a “well woman” and meeting his patronizing attempts to mollify her with reminders of his youth. As she speaks, Doctor Harry seems to “float” at the foot of the bed. She drifts out of consciousness and awakens to the sound of the doctor and her daughter, Cornelia, discussing her state. Cornelia’s attentiveness irritates her, and she asks Cornelia to leave and to stop whispering.

As Granny again drifts to sleep, she thinks about tasks that need doing and feels relieved that she has arranged the household tidily to facilitate tomorrow’s chores. She recalls a box of letters from “George” and “John” but dismisses this too; it will be work for her children “afterwards.” Thoughts of death briefly surface. They trouble Granny vaguely, but she feels prepared, having made a will and said her goodbyes to family members when she was just 60.

Granny reflects that she may be old, but her adult children—Lydia, Jimmy, and Cornelia—still ask for her advice. Widowed at a young age, her life has been hard, spent performing domestic chores, tending to her land, caring for the children, and working as a midwife. However, she always rose to the challenge and wishes she could go back and do it all again. Granny realizes her children are now older than her husband John was when he died. She anticipates being reunited with him soon.

A mist clouds Granny’s mind, reminding her of a fog that once frightened the children. She fondly remembers how she comforted the children by lighting the lamps. Granny thanks God for giving her strength over the years.

Memories of the past and the present become confused. Granny’s train of thought is disrupted by the unwelcome memory of her first fiancé George jilting her on their wedding day, of their wedding cake, uncut and thrown away. She has spent the last 60 years trying to block this from her mind.

Granny is brought back to the present when Cornelia wipes her face with a cold cloth. It is now evening and the doctor returns, giving her an injection. Granny longs for her daughter Hapsy (who died several years earlier, presumably in childbirth) to come and imagines searching for her in a house with many rooms. When she finds Hapsy, she is holding a baby in her arms.

Realizing her mother is close to death, Cornelia asks if there is anything she can do for her. Granny wants George to know that he did not ruin her life and that she went on to marry happily and have children. She also feels she has forgotten something else that is “missing.”

A priest, Father Donnolly, arrives. However, Granny feels “easy about her soul” and is confident she will go to heaven (Paragraph 49). She drifts off as Donnolly conducts the last rites. In her mind, she sees an impending storm. Remembering when Hapsy went into labor, she thinks she sees her favorite daughter by her bedside. However, Hapsy is not there, and her other children, Lydia and Jimmy, arrive. When Granny drops the rosary she holds, Jimmy tries to hand it back, but she grasps his hand instead.

Granny tells Cornelia she is not going to die as she is not ready. She again searches for Hapsy in her mind and worries she will not be reunited with her after all. The blue light at her bedside transfers itself to her brain where it flickers. Granny waits for God’s sign but does not receive it. She realizes God has jilted her just as George did years earlier. This time, the betrayal is worse. With her last breath, she blows out the blue light in her mind.