Control in Katherine Anne Porter's The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
Length: 976 words (2.8 double-spaced pages)
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Control, power, and influence are all things that people strive for throughout their lives. When a powerful person grows old however, their power may slip in spite their attempts to maintain control. An elderly person may feel useless, or they may have feelings of loss, regret, or waste. Issues of aging, control, and feelings of waste are something Katherine Anne Porter's "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" describes with vivid detail.
The story opens with Granny trying to refuse the care of her doctor. The story is viewed through limited omniscient and through her eyes we see that she feels she is strong enough to care for herself. She sees the doctor as unnecessary and views herself as a well woman. She actually tells the doctor to "Get along and doctor your sick. . . leave a well woman alone. I'll call for you when I want you" (1682). This is the reader's first insight into Granny's stubbornness to receive help of any kind. She also regards the doctor as disrespectful, making comments like "that brat ought to be in knee britches" and "I'd have you respect your elders young man." (1682). She tries to command respect by invoking colloquialism of age equating to wisdom and/or a right to be respected and exercise control over their juniors. When the doctor treats her with patronizing actions Granny dismisses him.
Granny is obviously dealing with a great deal of helpless feelings and looks for a chance for control. Her age and delirium are apparent when the doctor goes to leave and she describes him as floating. She then hears sounds that she can't immediately identify, this another clue to her slowly slipping sanity. The sounds (which she comprehends first as rustling leaves or swishing newspaper) are the doctor whispering with Granny's daughter Cornelia in the doorway. Granny is very displeased with her daughter's brashness to whisper about her in the doorway to her bedroom where there is a chance that she will hear what they're saying.
Granny's displeasure with her daughter reaches far beyond just her whispering in the doorway. Cornelia is the closest character there is an antagonist in this story. When concerning her daughter, Granny can do nothing but criticize the way she does most everything. These criticisms on the surface are simply the reproofs of a picky old woman.
However they are actually Granny's way of dealing with her incapacity to do things. She criticizes everything from Cornelia's housekeeping, to her lack of discretion, to her moral over perfection. She claims Cornelia is "So dutiful and good. . . I'd like to spank her" (1683). Everything Granny criticizes she compares to the way she would do them. This is an obvious indication of her lack of power. Granny delves into her past for quite a portion of the story. This allows the reader insight to Granny's pride. She thinks of letters she has stored in the attic, some from her husband and others from her first fiancee. She wants to sort through these letters to prepare for her final passing. This makes the fact that she knows she's dying clear, even if she is trying to fight it with every fiber of her being. She also thinks these letters would let her children know "how silly she had been once" (1683). This is a clue to her prideful tendencies and how much she values appearances.
Granny also remembers a day in her past when her intended groom (George) "jilted" her at the altar. She recalls the memory with fear; she feels that it would be what her hell would be, and she wants not to think of such things so close to her death. She says to herself "Wounded vanity Ellen. . . Don't let your wounded vanity get the upper hand of you" (1685). She is once again edging off her panic of her upcoming death, controlling what little she has left to control, her mind. She almost loses control with the resurfacing of the memory but her stubbornness refuses to let her succumb to panic.
Later in the story we see Father Connolly, her pastor, come to read her the last rights. She apparently likes Father Connolly but tries to dismiss him saying "I went to Holy Communion last week. Tell him I'm not so sinful as all that." (1687). Though she likes this man she tries to dismiss him in an attempt to exercise what little power she has.
In the end she loses control over the mind she was trying so hard to restrain. She sees such things as her deceased daughter standing by her bedside, her doctor with a "rosy nimbus around him," and delusions of lightning and thunder (1687). She ends up letting go and peacefully accepting what she's seeing and feeling. When she finally passes she calls out for God to giver her a sign. She is entirely jilted when she sees nothing. At this point in the story she is utterly without control; she doesn't even have a body to control any more. She exercises the little power she has left and snuffs out the final twinkle of light she sees, ending up in limbo. This final breath in life would probably be seen as a death rattle to the observers around her death bed.
Granny struggles for control though the whole story, finally relinquishing it in the end. The story leaves the reader with feelings of loss for the poor woman and lets the reader identify with her feelings of helplessness and remorse for things left undone. The story peers into the woman's insanity and draws one into her plight of powerlessness. Granny's jilt was her loss of all power.
Porter, Katherine Anne. "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall." Flowering Judas and other Stories. New York : Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1958 180-187