Exploration of Narrative Technique in Katherine Anne Porter's “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” Essay Example

Exploration of Narrative Technique in Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” Essay

            Katherine Anne Porter wrote and published  “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” in 1930.  This is a story of a grandmother who is dying.  While she is surrounded by her family most of the action of the story takes place in her head. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” “skillfully written and culturally important story about growing and being old” (Cline 170). The story centers around the inner monologue of Granny Weathall as she remembers the times and tribulations of her life.  The majority of which are incidents in which she feels “jilted”.  With each subsequent “jilt” Granny Weatherall becomes more jaded and paranoid.  At the end of her life her only concern is if she will be jilted by God too.  The story was eventually made into a movie directed by Randa Haines. The development of the rising action, falling action, resolution and theme, in “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” can be attributed to the stream of consciousness rhetoric technique employed by Katherine Porter.

            Stream of consciousness writing mirrors the human thinking pattern.  Stream of consciousness writing is characterized by the use long, run on sentences, changing of tense, informal conversation, and viewpoint.  Porter’s writing has very little punctuation and what is present is used to stop and start thoughts not sentences.  “All this is spewed out in a stream of choppy clauses, sentence fragments, and isolated words that reflect Granny’s own mental processes. Time too is fragmented, the present often sliding into the past, or the past”(Grider 153).  Porter utilizes this technique to allow the reader to understand and almost interact almost directly with the mind of Granny Weatherall.  Through this technique “”The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” Porter first attempts to portray the elder wise woman.” (Porter 132).  Porter is able to inform the reader many things no one else but Granny Weatherall has experienced or felt.  The whole of the story takes place within Granny Weatherall and  “the real setting was in Granny Weatherall’s mind”” (Tanner 19).

            The reader is first introduced to Granny Weatherall when she is being fussed over by Doctor Harry.  The reader soon realizes this will be the last day of her.  It is clear a few sentences into the story that Porter will comments both of life, death, and coming to terms with each.  Granny Weatherall can not fathom that her life is going to be over and refuses to give in to death.  She believes she is not sick and certainly not in need of a doctor and comments “get along and doctor your sick” and “Leave a well woman alone.”  Porter makes good use of this interior stream of consciousness and especially useful in representing the mind of not just an old woman whose memory fades in and out.  It also represented the desperation of an individual that is facing her own death.

            The rising action is created solely based on the interior monologue of Granny Weatherall.  Through the use of stream of consciousness Porter is able to fully fleshy out Granny’s personality as a stubborn and frigid woman.  It is clear that this story is not just “merely that a proud and stubborn old lady dies, unable to forget the jilting of a long-lost lover, but that the story reflects a particular, but common, attitude toward death (Rubin and Jacobs 284). Granny Weatherall, as she lay dying, seems to be already dead in her heart. After she makes the doctor leave she thinks “She meant to wave good-by, but it was too much trouble. The pillow rose and floated under her, pleasant as a hammock in a light wind. She listened to the leaves rustling outside the window. No, somebody was swishing newspapers: no, Cornelia and Doctor Harry were whispering together.”  Granny is worried and irritated by Cornelia taking to the doctor.  And even though her daughter is looking out for Granny, she frustrated by that too.  Granny Weatherall thinks “Cornelia was dutiful; that was the trouble with her. Dutiful and good: “So good and dutiful,” said Granny, “that I’d like to spank her.” She saw herself spanking Cornelia and making a fine job of it.”  Through the use of stream of consciousness the reader is able to enter the thoughts of Granny Weatherall, see her as hard and “leathered” woman inside and out.

            Porter uses the stream of consciousness to allow the reader access to Granny Weatherall intimate thoughts and memories about the central conflict within the story.  The conflict within the in “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” occurs through the establishment of Granny’s background story and is the defining event in Ms. Weatherall’s life.  Porter writes in detail about Ms. Weatherall life before she was Granny.  Ms. Weatherall’s past is one that is full of lost and sacrifice.  Early in life she is to be married to her first love, George.  She recalls vividly “she had put on the white veil and set out the white cake” but her man “doesn’t come”.  Ms. Weatherall continues:

That was hell, she knew hell when she saw it. For sixty years she had prayed against remembering him and against losing her soul in the deep pit of hell, and now the two things were mingled in one and the thought of him was a smoky cloud from hell that moved and crept in her head when she had just got rid of Doctor Harry and was trying to rest a minute.

This is the first of many instances in Ms. Weatherall’s life that she has been jilted.  That day George took from her something, “something not given back”.  Perhaps more then just a little bit of her soul and spirit died that day.

            The stream of consciousness style of writing allows the audience to understand the feelings of disappointment that Ms. Weatherall had when she was stood up at the alter.  It is clear that nobody but Granny and the audience know how devastating and life changing this event was.  Understanding where the bitterness of Granny Weatherall’s personality comes from allows the reader to see Granny not as an old cranky women but a strong woman disappointed in her youth.

            The technique is used here to show the way in which Granny fades from clear thinking to blurring mental thought.  This creates a dream like mood to the entire short story and “and the aura of dream makes this one of her [Porter]most intriguing stream-of-consciousness tales.” (Tanner 93)   This dream like tone is further supported by the use of the word “floating”.  Porter writes “Her bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin, and Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed. He floated and pulled down his waistcoat, and swung his glasses on a cord. “Well, stay where you are, it certainly can’t hurt you.”  As the story continues, and death comes closer the soft “floating” verbs into harsher words..  The thoughts in Ms. Weatherall’s mine continue to shift  from present to past, life and death while being accompanied each are images of light and dark.  The combination of images represents the “beauty as well as of terror” (Cline 171) of growing old and dying.

            Granny Weatherall continues to review her life in her head.  She recounts the lost of her husband and “sometimes she wanted to see John again and point to them (her children) and say, Well, I didn’t do so badly, did I?”. This is the second instance in Granny’s life that she was jilted.  Ms. Weatherall feels a great deal of pride for being a widowed mother and sole supporter of her children and herself.  “She takes on the traditional role with a vengeance–determined to have everything that the jilting would have taken away from her–and she is largely successful. When her husband dies young, she steps into a traditionally male role. laboring to make a good home and future for her children and herself.(Collins). She also lost a daughter who she expects to see when dies.  She works as a farmer, and animal doctor, “Riding country roads in the winter when women had their babies  was another thing: sitting up nights with sick horses and sick negroes and sick children and hardly ever losing one “.  She thinks about how a life without the men she loved and no men at all changed her and what he dead husband would think about her.  She thinks “She had fenced in a hundred acres once, digging the post holes herself and clamping the wires with just a negro boy to help. That changed a woman. John would be looking for a young woman with a peaked Spanish comb in her hair and the painted fan. Digging post holes changed a woman.”   Granny Weatherall emotional experience in losing a child is also presented to the reader through stream of consciousness inner dialogue.  It is not God that she expects to see at her death but Hapsy.  She ponders “I had to go a long way back through a great many rooms to find Hapsy standing with a baby on her arm…was no surprise in the meeting. Then Hapsy melted from within and turned flimsy … and said…’I thought you’d never come’”.

            As Granny Weatherall lay dying in the final paragraphs of this story it is only through this interior monologue technique that the reader is able to know what Granny feels and thinks.  It is through stream of consciousness that Granny Weatherall and the audience find resolution.  Granny thinks “For a second time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any other sorrow because this grief wiped them all away. Oh, no, there’s nothing more cruel than this – I’ll never forgive it. She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light.“  As Granny dies she ponders her past and again returns to the pivot moment in her life – George.  She whimpers “I want you to find George. Find him and be sure to tell him I forgot him. I want him to know I had my husband just the same and my children and my house like any other woman. A good house too and a good husband that I loved and fine children out of him. Better than I had hoped for even. Tell him I was given back everything he took away and more.”  At this point the true theme of the short story is exposed.  Granny Weatherall thinks “Oh, no, oh, God, no, there was something else besides the house and the man and the children. Oh, surely they were not all? What was it?”.

            There are several things within the text of Granny Weatherall – death, frustration, and jiliting. “The humiliation of rejection and the fear of death are “universal” themes” (Tanner 19).   The most important of these themes and the theme least explored is disappointment.  Porter, throughout, through the use of  stream of consciousness writing, to observed and be part of the internal struggle that Ms. Weatherall is having.  She is trying to make sense of a life that was so full of “jilts” she became solid, and hard.  Allowing herself to give but never to receive any comfortable or joy in anything.

            It is only through Porter’s use of stream of consciousness writing style that the reader knows that Granny lost her identity as a woman, and as a human being.  “The wasted life, a frequently recurring theme in Porter’s fiction, is in fact, one of the major themes of”  “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall (Tanner 94). Just as she condemns Cornelia for her dutiful behavior, she is yelling at herself for choosing to be dutiful instead of experience life. “”The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” a story portraying the last hours of a flawed yet quite admirable woman. The story evokes sadness while deftly escaping even the shadow of sentimentality.”(Cline 172).    Disappointment is a heartbreaking theme and it only through stream of consciousness writing that Porter can convey to the reader the desperation, sacrifice, and true longing that exists in Granny. “It is hardly possible to exaggerate the lovelessness in which most people live, men or women: wanting love, unable to give it, or inspire it, unable to keep it if they get it, not knowing how to treat it, lacking the humility, or the very love itself that could teach them how to love: it is the painfullest thing in human life.”(Bloom 35).

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

I. Paragraph One – Introduction

            A. Porter’s Biography

            B.General Summary of Short Story

            C. Thesis – The development of the rising action, falling action, resolution and theme, in             “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” can be attributed to the stream of consciousness rhetoric technique employed by Katherine Porter.

II. Paragraph Two – Define stream of consciousness technique

            A. Technique characterized by

                        1. Fragmented sentences

                        2. Little punctutation

                        3. Punctutaion used to break up thoughts

                        4. Grider Quote

            B. Technique mirrors mind, thinking

                        1. Porter Quote

                        2. setting Granny’s Mind

III. Paragraph Thee – Intro to Granny

            A. Interaction between doctor and granny

                        1. “Leave a well woman alone.”

                        2. Bitter and “mean”

            B. Story focus narrows

                        1. life, death, and coming to terms with each.

                        2. desperation of an individual

IV. Paragraph Four – Rising Action

            A. Personality of  Granny

                        1. Irritation with Cornelia

                        2. She meant to wave good-by, but it was too much trouble.

            B. Expects to be jilted / paranoia

                        1. doctor and Cornelia secretly talking about her

                        2. jiltings made Granny hard and “leathered”

            C. how stream of consciousness makes this possible

V. Paragraph Five – Central Conflict

            A. Defining moment George leaves her at alter

                        1. life before, when Granny was a young woman

                        2. “what’s a woman to do?”

            B. Second Jilt

                        1. Husband dies young

                        2. reader begins to understand and feel sorry for Granny

1        how narrative technique contributes to the above

2

VI. Paragraph Six – Drift

            A. story drifts from past to present tense

                        1. characteristic of technique

                        2. mirrors mentality of dying person

            B. images of light and dark

                        1. “beauty and terror” of death

                        2. technique creates dream like mood

1

VII. Paragraph Seven – Rising Action Contiues

            A. Death of Husband

                        1. pride in raising children alone

                        2. hard work changes a woman

            B. lost of child

                        1. hopes to see child when she dies

1        how technique demonstrates the aboe.

VIII. Paragraph Eight – Resolution

            A. Wants to see George again

                        1. to show me all she has

                        2. realises she doesn’t have all that much

            B. Theme revealed

1        when you die will you regret everything you did not do?

2

IX. Paragraph Nine – Exploration of Theme

            A. Death, rejection, jilting

                        1. universal

                        2. common feelings at death

            B. Theme of Short story

            1. disappointment

X. Conclusion

            A. restatement of thesis – It is only through Porter’s use of stream of consciousness writing style that the reader knows that Granny lost her identity as a woman, and as a human being

Works Cited

Bennett, Patrick. “Laura Furman, Beverly Lowry, and Shelby Hearon.” Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own. Ed. Sylvia Ann Grider and Lou Halsell Rodenberger. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997. 148-159. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=95932205>.

Bloom, Harold, ed. American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960. Vol. 3. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=98114057>.

Cline, Ralph M. “Chapter 13 Aging and the Public Schools: Visits of Charity — the Young Look at the Old.” Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective. Ed. Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999. 169-180. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=16077940>.

Collins, Caroline. “Jilted Southern Women: The Defiance of Margaret Cooper and Her Twentieth-Century Successors.” Studies in the Novel 35.2 (2003): 178+. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001974522>.

Deats, Sara Munson, and Lagretta Tallent Lenker, eds. Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=16077424>.

Grider, Sylvia Ann, and Lou Halsell Rodenberger, eds. Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=95932062>.

Porter, Katherine Anne. “5. the Land That is Nowhere.” Fiction of the Home Place: Jewett, Cather, Glasgow, Porter, Welty, and Naylor. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. 131-160. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=93530483>.

Porter, Katherine Anne. Flowering Judas: And Other Stories. New York: Modern Library, 1940. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=78267181>.

Rubin, Louis D., and Robert D. Jacobs, eds. Southern Renascence the Literature of the Modern South. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=85806315>.

Tanner, James T. F. The Texas Legacy of Katherine Anne Porter /. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 1991. Questia. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102278692>.

 

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