Theme, Symbolism, and The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
In literature, there are many different genres of stories one can read. From fiction to autobiographies, there is something for everyone to enjoy. While stories are enjoyable, sometimes it is important to slow down and look at the deeper meaning(s) behind what the author is conveying. Critical analysis of a story involves looking different aspects of fiction such as theme and symbolism. These both allow a reader to develop an emotional connection and understanding to the story. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Ann Porter is about an elderly lady, Granny Weatherall, who is on her death bed. As the reader follows Granny through her last moments in life it is important to think about how theme and symbolism play a role in the story.
In the story, one could argue that the overall theme is the usefulness of denial. Granny Weatherall is deep in denial about her death and her past hardships. Granny acts like she isn’t dying and those around her are just overreacting. She remarks how she survived worse illnesses in past years and even how her own father “lived to be one hundred and two years old” (Porter 273). Later on, Granny’s daughter states how other people are coming for a visit to which Granny replied: “Whose birthday is it? Are you going to give a party?” (Porter 276). Granny refuses to acknowledge that people are visiting in order to say their goodbyes; instead she would rather believe that it is for some sort of party. Her denial about her approaching death is necessary but also creates hardships on those around her. One could argue that her denial in life is necessary because it has allowed her to thrive and build a good life around her. Without her denial she may have never been able to move past her despair. However, her denial has also created hardships for those around her. It can be assumed that Granny was hard on her children, causing some failings that they will never get an apology for. Ultimately, denial of her death can relate to her need for order and control. Granny has lived her life controlling every aspect; even with news of her impending death, she acted out in a way that made her feel in control (such as writing a will or organizing possessions). Since death came quicker than expect, Granny lost control thus leading to her denial about her impending death.
This story is not only about death, but about life as well. Porter does a wonderful job connecting life and death in a way that compliments each other. The story touches upon grief, fear, and even denial that may come with death, but it also highlights the amazing experiences life hands someone before death. Granny is denial about her impending death by trying to ignore her surroundings and act like everything is normal. She has flashbacks about her younger days and even remembers the times when her children were young and reliant on her, “Little things, little things! They had been so sweet when they were little. Granny wished the old days were back again.” (274) Granny even goes as far as picturing the Doctor as child, referring to him as a brat. (272) Reducing those around her to a childlike status, she is able further pretend that she is not old and dying. This sadness is balance with a more positive look on Granny’s life. The flashbacks to Granny’s youth encourage a more positive outlook on her life. She had a rich and accomplished life and even though she is dying, it doesn’t mean Granny is defined by this singular point in her life. This implies that death doesn’t need to feel hopeless or final as one might think. Instead, Porter links it to the hope and optimism life brings. Understanding these themes makes it easier to interpret potential symbols this story holds.
There are a few symbols in this story, but one is important. One symbol that is important to the story is the color blue. Blue is used to symbolize various stages of her life. The reader first comes across the color blue when Granny starts talking about order and things being clean: “…the day started without fuss and 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.” (Porter 273). At this point in time, the blue suggests a youthful side of Granny and her ability to run a household. It also suggests a time in her life when Granny was able to impose order. Continuing further into the story, Granny starts to think about her children: “Their eyes followed the match and watched the flame rise and settle in a blue curve, then they moved away from her.” (Porter 275). At this point, blue refers to a transitional point in her life. When her children were young, they were dependent on Granny, finding comfort in her inner strength. However, as the children grew older, they stopped being dependent on her and moved into the world on their own. As Granny starts to think about the time she was jilted: “Her eyelids wavered and let in steamers of blue-gray light…” (Porter 275-276). This moment of blue represents the time in her life where hardships occurred against her own will, when she was left at the altar. This ties into the next moment: “….John’s eyes very black when they should have been blue.” (Porter 278). This is a good representation of her feelings towards her marriage. Granny was content, but felt she married the wrong man. As the reader comes to the end, Granny comments on her daughter’s lampshade “The blue light from Cornelia’s lampshade…” (Porter 279). This represents the final stage of Granny’s life, her death. In the end blue comes full circle, thus symbolizing important aspects and ideas from each state in her life.
Literature has many different genres and lengths for people to enjoy. Short stories offer multitudes of enjoyment and “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is one of them. A story about the last moments of an elderly lady gives the reader feelings of empathy and an appreciation of life itself. Theme and symbolization play important roles in the story to convey a message of life and death to the readers. Without these two literary devices, the story would not be as effective or well written.
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