Study Guide to
Katherine Anne Porter's "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall"

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For a photograph of the author, check out the links for the course.  There is also an essay by Porter on piece of American history citizens today should know about, which will give you an idea of part of the framework of values from which Porter approached life.

You should work through this study guide before attempting to do the writing assignment on this story.

Plan to devote at least three full readings to the story.  


Your first reading.  Try to arrange a time for your initial reading that will enable you to finish the story in a single sitting, without interrruption.  Your goal here should be simply to get acquainted with some of the most immediate puzzlements the author has concocted for the reader.  Make a marginal note (e.g., "Q" or "?") where you run into something that stumps you or sets you to wondering.

Before reading further, jot down some of the points that you feel you'd need to get clear about before you would have a clear grasp of what the whole situation is (past and present) that we are asked to imagine in this story.

Do not read further in this study guide until you have completed these steps.


Your second reading.  Begin by comparing your list of curiosities with the one that follows.  If you've thought of some additional ones, add them to the list.  If some appear here that didn't occur to you, is that because you already have a clear answer in mind, or because you were a little too passive in your initial reading?

(1) Who is John?  That is, what is the history here?  

How does Granny Weatherall feel about him?  If she wants to feel certain ways rather than others, what are the motives that lead her to want to feel the way she wishes to?  Does she feel the way she wants to feel:  that is, are her true feelings the same as the ones that she wants to have?  Are some of her feelings more fundamental than others?  For example, does she have to convince herself that she feels certain ways?  Do we find her denying (unconvincingly) that she feels certain ways?  (Do we detect repression at work?  If so, what questions does that fact raise?)

How do we feel about her on the basis of what we take to be the facts here?

(2) Who is George?  What's the history?  

How does Granny Weatherall feel about him?  

Are her feelings all of a piece, or are they contradictory in certain ways?  (Getting specific about this means getting serious about the facts of the story we are being invited to imagine.)

Is she aware of all of her feelings, or has she managed to deceive herself about some of them?

How do we feel about her on the basis of what we take to be the facts here?

(3) Who is Hapsy?  What's the history?  

What are Granny Weatherall's feelings about this history?

How do we feel about her on the basis of what we take to be the facts here?

(4) Who is Cornelia?  

How does Granny feel towards her?  (Today?  In respect of her standing relationship with her?)  How does Granny feel about how she feels towards Cornelia?  Is she clear on this?  How does she manage to be clear (or not to be clear, as the case may be)?  What do you think living with Granny Weatherall has been like for Cornelia?  Does Granny herself appreciate this?

How do we feel about Granny Weatherall on the basis of what we take to be the facts here?

(5) What in the story suggests that Granny Weatherall is well prepared for death?  In how many respects is she not adequately prepared for it?

How do we feel about her on the basis of what we take to be the facts here?

(6) Does Granny Weatherall have a sound religious understanding of her spiritual condition?  

What details in the story implicitly raise this question?  What questions do we need to get answers to in order to answer it?  What facts in the story might provide materials for an answer?

How do we feel about her on the basis of what we take to be the facts here concerning her spiritual condition?

In your second reading, be looking for clues that would serve as materials for arriving at answers to these questions.

Do not read further in this study guide until you have completed your second reading.


Your third reading.  Let's devote this to paying special attention to some motifs built into the story.  This is a standard attention we should be bringing to bear in any story, but in this case we have an additional reason for doing so.  

Since the story is built around the combination of limited omniscient narration and interior monologue, the reader is boxed into a special "corner" of the total situation within which the story-as-a-whole takes place, namely, into the consciousness of the protagonist -- and a protagonist, moreover, who is in a very particular state of mind:  as a dying person, Granny Weatherall is both losing her powers of deliberate control over events (including the events that constitute her conscious experience, which she has evidently learned to master along with the various disappointments that life has dealt her) but is also subject to a number of intense anxieties.  So part of the challenge this sort of story offers the reader is to "fight our way out of that box" -- by constructing the full situation only hinted at by the clues that are available to us insofar as we start within it.  "The box," in this case, is the flow of memory, dream, and inchoate perception that constitutes Granny Weatherall's experience on this occasion of crisis.   

But this stream of thoughts and feelings is governed not by the methodical unfolding of a logical progression of deliberation but by associations driven by hopes and fears, an important clue to what is going on in the larger situations within which Granny Weatherall's consciousness is situated -- the world of contemporary social events around her and the world of unconscious needs and worries within.  And this means that recurrent notions (motifs) and the things with which they are associated -- the attendant thoughts and feelings to which they arrive and into which they lead -- are important clues, for us, in constructing the fuller picture of what is going on.

What, then, are some of the ideas we should be attending to?   And what should we be doing with them once we notice them, if we are going to exploit them in this spirit?

(1) First there's the idea of "jilting."  Make a point of noting in the margin (say, with "J") the places where this comes up.  But now notice something else.  

What comes up just before Granny's memories of the events associated with her jilting by George?  

And what do we find her doing when these memories arise?

(2) Where do we see the idea of "I'm in control" or (alternative) "I managed to get on top of that"?

In what situations do these come to the fore?

What comes out of this idea, on different occasions?

(3) In how many places does the concept of "waste" come in?

What larger ideas is Granny inclined to make with it?

The motifs mentioned so far are all conveyed we might say by mention:  they are "said" or stated.  They are either declared by Granny herself or told, in so many words, by the narrator.  But another kind of pattern it is important to keep an eye out for consists of a pattern of repeated action

Of course these actions are often accomplished "in and through" words.  A person can whine, for instance, in the way in which he talks about the weather, his boss, the price of gas, the way his kids treat him, etc. A person can brag, or conciliate, or wheedle, or try to intimidate, or be tactful, and so on, and (just as in "real life") when these things go on, it's a sign of astuteness on our part if we pick up on them.

(4) Here's one to tune into in the case of Granny Weatherall:  how does the opening of the story (down, say, through the beginning of the paragraph when she drops her hand and notices that Doctor Harry and Cornelia are discussing her case) present Granny Weatherall as repeatedly "in denial"?

Since such a pattern of repeated action is after all action, the question arises:  what's the motivation?  (I say "motivation" rather than "the motive" because I want to encourage you to look for more than one or even two motives:  motivation can be complex, even conflicted, inconsistent, contradictory.)

(5) Finally, let's note that the issue continnually arises of what Granny thinks she deserves out of life, given how she has conducted and is conducting it.

(These need not be at odds, of course, but we have to take responsibility for saying that they are or are not.)


  Go to the Writing Assignment on this story.

  Suggestions are welcome.  Please send your comments to lyman@ksu.edu .

   Contents copyright 1999 by Lyman A. Baker

Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.

  This page last updated 03 February 1999.