The Jilting of Granny Weatherall | Study Guide

Katherine Anne Porter

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The Jilting of Granny Weatherall | Plot Summary & Analysis

See Plot Diagram


Around Ellen's Deathbed

Ellen Weatherall, an 80-year-old woman who thinks of herself as Ellen although she is called Granny or Mother by those around her, lies in bed. She is annoyed by the whispers of her concerned daughter Cornelia and young Doctor Harry, both of whom hover close by. She shoos away Doctor Harry, who condescendingly compliments her on her health, and wishes she could spank Cornelia for being so "dutiful and good."

Ellen tries to rest, but her mind goes to the things that need to be done. Contemplating her home, she enjoys the thought of the order she created in it, everything in its place. There is a box of love letters in the attic from George, her onetime fiancé, and John, her husband, that she would like to sort through. She wants to prevent her children from discovering her youthful silliness. Once, when she was 60 years old, she had been convinced her time was near, and she had even made goodbye visits to her children. So she thinks she should be prepared now. Her father had made it to 102 years old, claiming a hot toddy (a drink with alcohol) as his secret. She asks Cornelia for some toddy just to shock her daughter. Ellen wishes she could live on her own again.

Recollections of Her Life

Ellen takes pride in the fact that her adult children still ask for her advice, but she recalls wistfully when they were young children. She takes pride in how well she cared for them after John's death. She had taken care of the whole farm, digging the posts for a fence on her own, cooking meals, and mending clothes. She would like to show John what she has accomplished, but she realizes he wouldn't recognize her now, having died when she was younger. Digging postholes "changed a woman," as does "riding country roads in the winter when women had their babies." The hard work has changed her, but she knows John would understand that. Ellen remembers how her children had gathered around her in the dark as she lit the lamps. She thanks God for the life she has led, and recites "Hail, Mary, full of grace," the beginning of the prayer "Hail Mary."

The First Jilting

There has been bitter loss in Ellen Weatherall's life too, as her name—"weather all"—suggests. She remembers the day when she was left alone at the altar, jilted by George, a painful recollection she has avoided thinking about for 60 years. It was hell, and the mere memory threatens to drag her soul into its depths. But she scolds herself for self-pity, telling herself to "stand up to it."

Death Approaches

The doctor is in the room again, and Ellen becomes increasingly confused. In her memory she sees Hapsy, someone she loved deeply, holding a baby boy. Then she seems to be holding the baby, who is Hapsy, before the image evaporates, and Hapsy comes close to tell Ellen she'll be awaiting her and that she hasn't changed a bit. Ellen wishes she could tell George that she got everything in life that he took away from her—a husband, house, and children—but she realizes there is "something not given back" that was irrevocably lost. Ellen remembers telling John that she was about to give birth to her last child, one she really wanted and felt should have been her first.

Ellen is brought back into the present for a few moments as Cornelia tells her the priest has arrived. Ellen protests that she has been to Holy Communion recently and has no need of a priest. She feels "easy" about her soul.

She remembers how she had begun to fall at the altar when George jilted her, but a man caught her. Furious, he offered to kill George for her, but Ellen either told him or now thinks "leave something to God." Ellen recollects Hapsy on the night she was to give birth and thinks she sees Hapsy at the end of the bed in a white cap. John's photo stands on the dresser. Ellen jokes that the lamplight around Doctor Harry's head makes him look saintly, but the doctor doesn't understand her. The priest busies himself, and she thinks he is inappropriately tickling her feet. She holds a rosary.

The Second Jilting

Cornelia's voice shakes "like a cart in a bad road" as Ellen visualizes climbing into the cart, which circles aimlessly, arriving nowhere. Ellen has the impression of a gathering thunderstorm and a rising fog and sees all her children now gathered around her bed. She suddenly feels she isn't ready and thinks of all she still needs to do, including directing the distribution of her property among her children. She thinks of seeing Hapsy again. Ellen's view of the lamp beside her bed shrinks to a small pinpoint of light that "was herself," and she worries the darkness will consume it. She begs God for a sign, but once again she is jilted. There is "again no bridegroom and the priest in the house." Overwhelmed by this final cruelty, she blows out the light.


Hope of an Afterlife

The story offers a fairly cynical look at the hope of an afterlife promised by the Catholic Church. Ellen Weatherall has been a practicing Catholic who attends Communion, and she is confident in her faith until her final moments. She waits for a sign from God, with a priest nearby and a rosary in hand. But she is crushed when Christ—symbolically the "bridegroom" of the church—does not appear to usher her into eternity, as her faith assured her.

The Bible's New Testament makes frequent references to Christ as a bridegroom, including the parable of the wise and foolish virgins that is clearly evoked in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall." This parable appears in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. In the parable five wise and five foolish virgins await their bridegroom at night, the wise women having brought plenty of extra oil for their lamps. When the bridegroom is almost there the foolish brides must go buy more oil for their lamps, and they miss his arrival. He goes with the wise women and refuses to let the others join him. The parable suggests that believers should prepare for the coming of Christ, and the echoes found in the short story include not only the bridegroom but also images of light, darkness, and waiting.

In the short story, however, the bridegroom never arrives, and all Ellen's wisdom, confidence, faith, and hard work are proven futile. When she enters the cart she knows the driver "by his hands," but whether he is meant to be John or death itself is left to the reader's imagination. Either way, she knows she is dying as she waits for "darkness [to] curl around the light and swallow it up." She thinks, "God, give a sign!" But for a second time "there was no sign," and her last thought is of intense grief as she wills herself to die. This is a blow she cannot weather.

Allusions to Emily Dickinson

The end of the short story includes a number of allusions to the work of American poet Emily Dickinson (1830–86), as critic David Estes has argued, most notably from the poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" (1890). The poem uses the metaphor of a carriage ride to represent a woman's journey to the grave. In the Dickinson poem, the woman rides with Death in a carriage, similar to Ellen Weatherall's thoughts of climbing into a cart. However, unlike the peaceful, contemplative journey to eternity in Dickson's poem, Ellen's cart jolts aimlessly, and the destination she expected is never reached.

The story references another Dickinson poem, "I've Seen a Dying Eye" (1890), which offers a more pessimistic portrait of a dying person whose eye roves a room, seemingly searching for something without finding it. Both the poem and the story include the phrase "around and around" and looking desperately for something. For Ellen, the object sought is a sign of Christ, which she does not receive. And from another unnamed poem published in Dickinson's Poems (1896) the phrase "could not see to see" perfectly describes the despairing darkness and searching of Ellen's final moments.


One of the features of modernist fiction is fragmentation of thoughts through the stream-of-consciousness technique. Consequently much interpretation is left to the reader, leading to disagreement among critics. There are many elements of "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" about which critics argue, but perhaps the most widely debated is the character of Hapsy.

For many years it was assumed by the majority of critics that Hapsy is a daughter of Ellen's, her favorite, who died in childbirth. Some guessed she might have been the illegitimate child of Ellen Weatherall and George—that is, that Ellen was left pregnant at the altar. More recently, feminist critic Roseanne Hoefel has pointed to the heterosexist (anti-homosexual) underpinnings of such assumptions. The closeness of Ellen to Hapsy does not dictate a mother-and-child relationship. She might just as well be a midwife colleague—she appears to Ellen in a white cap—or a close friend. What is clear is that Hapsy is emotionally intimate with Ellen. It is "Hapsy she really wanted," and when Ellen imagines seeing her, they kiss. Both Hapsy and John died young, but it is Hapsy Ellen hopes to be reunited with in eternity—not John—whoever Hapsy may be.

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Ellen Weatherall is jilted by George.

Rising Action

2 She marries John and starts a family.

3 Widowed with young children, Ellen manages the farm.

4 Ellen lies dying, remembering her life.


5 She asks God for a sign, but there is none.

Falling Action

6 Ellen is crushed by disappointment and betrayal.


7 She turns out the light that represents her life.

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