Betrayal, Religion and Death in “A Worn Path” and “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”

With repeated reading of each story, the similarities between Eudora Welty’s, A Worn Path, and Katherine Anne Porter’s, The Jilting of Granny Weatherall become more apparent. Both stories are about women who differ in race and social status; however, both stories interweave themes of betrayal, religion, death, and the characters personal journeys through life.

Phoenix Jackson emerges in “A Worn Path” as a character who possesses extraordinary strength of will. Not only is she an aged, blind, black female who is on a journey through torturous terrain to secure medication for her ill grandson, but she is a symbol of poverty and selflessness, which contrasts the wealth, and self-centeredness of the white society in which she lives.

As you read the story A Worn Path, the theme of betrayal becomes apparent. The story occurs during the Christmas season in and around Natchez, Mississippi. At this time racism was a societal norm, even in the Bible belt areas where Christianity flourished. The protagonist, Phoenix, is betrayed by a society run by white people who have little respect or understanding of her race or her situation. The first person Phoenix encounters during her journey is a white hunter, who pulls her out of a ditch into which a dog has just knocked her. Instead of offering the blind, old woman a coat, or helping her reach the city of Natchez, he threatens her with his gun. Phoenix believes he is going to shoot her because she has been caught retrieving a coin he has dropped. Phoenix also believes god saw her, and is a witness to her “stealing.” Phoenix says, “God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing,” as she looks up at the bird flying by. During the early to mid twentieth century, Phoenix’s crime of taking the nickel would not be justified by her age or level of poverty. Her stoic acceptance of being shot reflects society’s blatant disregard for the welfare of blacks. As Phoenix continues her journey, she encounters other white characters, a lady who ties Phoenix’s shoes, an attendant, and the dismissive nurse at the medical clinic. No one in the story offers to assist Phoenix on her journey; neither on the perilous journey to clinic or the larger “journey” that is her life.

Although the journey made by granny Weatherall is not a physical one, her journey is one of reflection, acceptance, and death. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is the story of the last day in the eighty-year-old woman’s life presented in a stream-of-consciousness narrative. In her final hours, Granny Weatherall reflects upon her life, almost against her will, she remembers standing alone at the altar when her fiance George jilted her. Determined to have everything that the jilting would have taken away from her, she marries john and continues with raising a family. Unfortunately, her husband dies young; forcing her to make a good home and future for her children and herself. In spite of her accomplishments, on her deathbed Ellen cannot banish the memory of being jilted. However, the ultimate betrayal of Granny involves God. Ellen Weatherall laid in her deathbed feeling that she has been jilted again, this time by God. After she pleads, “God, give a sign! For the second time there was no sign; again no bridegroom, and the priest in the house.” Just as granny was left alone with the priest on her wedding day, she also feels that she left to face death alone. The story of Granny Weather all does not give a sense of closure; we are left only with a final image of Granny blowing out a candle. This symbolizes Grannies unfailing strength and bravery, as she completes her journey without anyone’s assistance.

Granny Weatherall and Phoenix Jackson were tough and defiant, even in the face of death. Ellen Weatherall turned what she perceives to be her own weakness into her strength. The memory of being jilted has driven her to be strong, to accomplish as much as she possibly could. Phoenix Jackson would not allow Race, sex, age, size, poverty, senility, failing eyesight, lack of status and education are not able to deter her from reaching her goal.

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