I've kind of had parables on the brain the last few days. Of course, the Gospel readings that the Church's lectionary provides at this green time of the year are full of parables, and Mark Shea's recent feature article on InsideCatholic.com, “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward,” is a good exploration of why Christ so often taught in parables and, also, why he had to explain them, even though on the face of it they are quite simple moral tales. As Shea points out, what's obvious to a Christian may not be obvious to others, who have not “eyes to see nor ears to hear”; these only faith can provide.
|U.S. postage stamp honoring Katherine Anne Porter|
The Jilting of Granny WeatherallThe story is a deceptively complex tale, told by a narrative voice which literary types would classify as “third person, limited omniscient.” This simply means that the voice telling the story does not belong to any of the characters in the story, and it allows us to know things that an ordinary objective observer could not know — in this case, the reader hears the rambling thoughts of elderly, dying Granny Weatherall during the last hours of her life. So the reader finds, fairly early on, that it’s a bit of a job to figure out what, objectively, is happening in Granny's sick room, as the events come to us largely filtered through the old woman's groggy, feeble, and wandering consciousness. That is part of the complexity but, as I said, that complexity is deceptive, and not only because Granny’s idea of what is happening to, and around, her is not always accurate. Porter's authorial intention goes beyond the objective level of physical reality and the subjective level of Granny's mental meanderings, to the moral level of Granny's spiritual state, something which even Granny herself seems determined to ignore, and which many readers will miss altogether.
|Jan Adam Kruseman,|
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
The Biblical illiteracy of modern readers
|Modern critics of Chrétien de Troyes's|
The Story of the Grail
often miss the point.
A casual cruise of the internet on the subject of “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” will discover not only the predictably awful essays and summaries written by and for students, but also offerings by “professionals” which entirely deliberately ignore or unwittingly miss the ample allusions that point to the real heart of the matter. (I even found this one, an academic essay by a certain Barbara Laman of the University of Miami, which misses the point rather spectacularly, thanks to the peculiar kind of mental astigmatism created by a “feminist” perspective).
In the case of the Porter story, failing to recognize Biblical allusions and their significance will force an otherwise-astute reader to arrive at exactly the wrong conclusion regarding the meaning of the story. How many other, even greater, cultural treasures are, in effect, being distorted and defaced by this cultural blind spot? Loss of familiarity with the great stories of the Bible produces a great loss not only for those at least nominally Christian, but for our culture as a whole. This is an argument that has been made with greater force and eloquence by others than I have done here, but it is one that has been borne in upon me with renewed force this week as my students and I have been analyzing this widely-read work by one of America's great short story writers.
©2010 Lisa A. Nicholas