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The Jilting of Granny Weatherall | Study Guide

Katherine Anne Porter

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The Jilting of Granny Weatherall | Symbols


Fog, Smoke, and Shadows

Fog, smoke, and shadows represent the confusion and fear that threaten to obscure Ellen Weatherall's memory and faith. As Ellen tries to recall what she should be planning, she sees a "fog [rise] up over the valley ... marching ... like an army of ghosts." She remembers how she would light the lamps to comfort her children, banishing darkness. But she cannot control the smoke that clouds her memories. As she thinks of the day George jilted her, "a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it." The smoke is from "the deep pit of hell," the memory she has avoided for decades that threatens even her soul. On her deathbed, "shadows [rise] towards the ceiling," and she has trouble recognizing her family members gathered around. In her final moments, the pinpoint of light from the bedside lamp representing her is surrounded by a "deeper mass of shadow in an endless darkness" that Ellen fears "will swallow it [the light] up." These symbols convey the terror and mystery of Ellen's experience of death.

The Bridegroom

There are two bridegrooms in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall." The first is a literal bridegroom, George, and the second is Jesus Christ. Both represent betrayal.

In a general sense a bridegroom represents a promised partner. There is an element of contract or agreement in any marriage that is based on trust. The bride and the bridegroom have arranged to make vows to each other meant to last a lifetime. When the bridegroom fails to appear, he breaks the bride's trust and faith.

In the short story, both bridegrooms fail to appear, and their betrayal is crushing to the point of extinguishing Ellen's last spark of life. The jilting that Ellen has spent a lifetime trying to forget still haunts her on her deathbed. The failure of God to send a sign of the afterlife promised to her in Jesus's death and resurrection is so unforgivable that she wills herself to die.

Wedding Cake

The wedding cake intended to celebrate Ellen Weatherall's marriage to George symbolizes her lost innocence. She wonders "what is a woman to do when she has ... set out the white cake for a man and he doesn't come?" It clearly does not occur to her that George might not come. She is blindsided, and the pain of the day is lifelong. Instead of a party, the cake is "thrown out and wasted," and with it her youthful faith and naivete. Ellen wants to believe that she was "given back everything he took away and more," but she realizes there is one thing not given back: her ability to trust.

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