Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall 

I’m still enjoying the literature anthology I picked up in a thrift store last month, and am happy to see that it includes the wonderful short story The Jilting of Granny Weatherall. I adore Katherine Anne Porter, and find her so superior to the extremely overrated but now more famous Southern writer Eudora Welty, although I do enjoy her photography.), I found the Optimist’s Daughter a tedious, soporific experience, and after reading it, American Pastoral, 1000 Acres and Middlesex and I have become deeply suspicious and wary of Pulitzer Prize fiction winners.

The recent death of my mother, a cousin, my favorite patron and the extended and scary convalescence of a formative grandmother have made this an extremely difficult year for me, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted or needed to revisit any stories about Southern matriarchs on their deathbeds, but I’m glad I did. Told mostly in a stream of consciousness style that drifts into occasional delirium, the story is about the experiences of a dying, 80 year old Southern matriarch. Like her name implies, she is a model of endurance and perseverance, a real battleaxe, but through flashbacks, you learn that she was jilted at the altar when she was twenty, an event from which she has never truly recovered. She eventually married another man and made a good, fulfilling life for herself and their children. She transformed from a belle with a painted fan to a woman who "fenced in a hundred acres once, digging the post holes herself and clamping the wires with just a negro boy to help," a woman who rode "country roads in the winter when women had their babies...sitting up nights with sick horses and sick negroes and sick children and hardly ever losing one." In her old age she is greatly respected for her wisdom and common sense, and family and friends constantly seek her advice. The memory of her jilting still preoccupies her, however, and when her time comes near and death is not exactly what she has envisioned, she assumes she’s being jilted once again, but this time by Jesus. She’s wrong, though, God's coming for her, just not in the form that she recognizes and presumes. Instead of Jesus, she starts to 'see' people like her favorite child, Hapsy, who died in childbirth years before, baby on her arm. Her stubborn will and pride are traits which allowed her to survive the trauma of the first jilting, but they have also blinded her a bit. When she dies, she does so bitterly but on her own terms, by stretching herself with a deep breath and forcefully "blowing out the light" herself. Even though she dies in despair, erroneously believing that she has been stood up and betrayed once again, the reader knows that she is going to be all right, that loved ones who have passed on before her have gathered to lead her into the hereafter.

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