Character Analysis Granny (Miss Rosa Millard)


Because we first see Granny through the eyes of her twelve-year-old grandson, it is easy to be misled in our opinion of her. Too many critics have simply dismissed her as a romanticized, stereotyped, indomitable southern matriarch who accomplishes feats far beyond the capacity of a woman of her age and physical stature. For both Bayard and Ringo, she truly does seem to loom larger than life, but then we must remember that when Bayard sees her lying dead, murdered by Grumby, she looks "like she had been made out of a lot of little thin dry light sticks, notched together and braced with cord, and now the cord had broken and all the little sticks had collapsed in a quiet heap on the floor."

Granny assumes that all people, certainly southerners, possess the same values, ethics, and manners as she herself possesses. She belongs to that old southern tradition that holds tradition itself as the standard for right or wrong. She assumes that an army officer will be a gentleman — even a Yankee officer; therefore, when she lies about the whereabouts of the two boys in "Ambuscade," she does so with the full knowledge and belief that no gentleman would ever question the veracity of a lady. The irony, of course, is that this belief allows the southern lady to lie prodigiously because a true southern gentleman would never confront her or accuse her of lying — much less call her an outright liar. (As a side note, Faulkner wrote stories such as "Dry September" in which a black man is violently killed because a southern lady lies about his raping her; because of the southern code, white southern men would naturally kill a black man before they would question the veracity of a white lady.)

Granny is obviously a product of "the old order" of the South. She would never consider adapting, inwardly or outwardly, to a South other than the one in which she was reared. She cannot understand the concept of a black person desiring anything other than serving his white master. In "Raid," she often tells the blacks to "go back home" — meaning, of course, to return to their white masters' plantations and to their positions as slaves, serving obediently their white masters. Granny's loyalty to the "holy cause" of the Confederacy, which God has "seen fit to make . . . a lost cause," permits her to indulge in a morality replete with contradictions. As a result of her own individual sense of morality, Granny will steal horses, but will not let Ringo and Bayard ride them in to town to do an errand for her at Mrs. Compson's. To Granny, the horses are not stolen; they are "borrowed." She will involve young Bayard and Ringo in forgery and theft; yet, at the same time, she will force the boys to kneel down and pray for forgiveness for having "lied."

In yet another ritual of penitence, Granny rationalizes her wrongful actions in one of the most unusual prayers ever uttered — a prayer that is admirable because there is no cringing; yet neither is there awe, reverence, or humility. Granny's prayer to God is almost a challenge or a defiance to God. Yet in her prayer, she is noble in that she wants all of God's punishment for the "sins" committed to fall on her shoulders: no one else is to be blamed. Her prayer to God is direct and matter-of-fact: "I did not sin for revenge [even though at this point, she has cause for revenge since she can see no reason for the Yankees' burning of the Sartoris mansion]. I defy You or anyone to say I did. I sinned first for justice. And after that first time . . . I sinned for the sake of food and clothes for your own creatures." Then she informs God that if she "kept some of it back . . . I am the best judge of that." Granny, therefore, is truly admirable in her concern for other people, for her courage, for her direct honesty with God and people, and for her willingness to assume full responsibility for her acts. Yet despite her genuine humanitarian concerns, Granny never is able to accept or understand a code of morality which would enable her to put an individual above the traditional southern codes and customs of "the old order." She refuses to consider blacks as being anything other than possessions of their white masters. Oblivious of their human rights, she tries to coerce the recently freed, disoriented blacks following their Yankee liberators into returning to Alabama and to their proper position as slaves by rewarding them with food and protection. However, as good as her intentions are, Miss Rosa Millard is a victim of her heritage ("the old order"); she is at the same time both noble and immoral, a combination of contradictions of which she is totally unaware. For example, Ringo is good enough to be Granny's partner and "equal" in her dealings with Ab Snopes and with the Yankees, and he can sit with her on the front seat of her wagon, yet in church, where all God's people should be equal, Ringo must sit apart from the whites (up in the gallery, with the other blacks); it is only later, when Granny begins apportioning money and mules to the poor, that Ringo is allowed to leave the gallery and read the names from Granny's big account book. He is allowed to leave the gallery, but his position is still that of a subservient black. Granny's motivations are sincerely altruistic, but her manner is unconsciously that of La Grande Dame, doling out alms to the poor.

In conclusion, Granny is one of the best examples of "the old order" of the South. When she realizes that the southern cause is lost and that the colonel will be returning, she also realizes that she must have some cash to hand over to him so that he can begin again. Thus Granny engages in one last, fatal confrontation with Grumby. Importantly, she will not let Ringo and Bayard accompany her; she thinks that they look old enough for Grumby to consider them dangerous; but she mistakenly assumes that because Grumby is a southerner, he is by definition also a gentleman and, consequently, would never "hurt a woman. Even Yankees do not harm old women." Granny goes to her death as one of the unvanquished because of her tenacious belief in the ideals of "the old order."

Granny is, in one sense, a great humanitarian, but she is at the same time totally incapable of understanding the causes which motivated the Civil War itself; she cannot understand the need of a human being to desire freedom; she cannot understand the need of a human being to feel pride in his own humanity even though his skin is black; and therefore she contents herself, instead, with helping the individual, unfortunate human beings she encounters — black or white — to survive in a time of destruction and chaos.