As the story opens, octogenarian Granny Weatherall is in bed, attended to by Dr. Harry and her grown daughter, Cornelia. Although Granny finds their concern officious, it becomes apparent that Granny is suffering from a serious illness, and that she is not fully aware of the gravity of her condition.
As she "rummages around her mind", she senses death lurking nearby, and she desires to stave it off, at least until she can tie up some loose ends. Her unfinished business primarily concerns a bundle of letters she has stored in the attic, some from her long-dead husband, John, but primarily those from a man named George who jilted Granny Weatherall sixty years ago. She wants to get rid of them tomorrow, lest her children discover them and find out how "silly" she had been.
Granny’s mind continues to wander in and out of consciousness, and she becomes irritated because Cornelia seems to be whispering about her behind her back. Cornelia’s patronizing behavior causes Granny to fantasize about packing up and moving back into her own home, where nobody will continue to remind her that she is old. Her father lived to be 102, so she might just last to "plague Cornelia a little".
Granny reflects on the old days when her children were still young and there was still work to be done. She imagines being reunited with John. She muses that he will not recognize her, since he will be expecting a "young woman with the peaked Spanish comb in her hair and the painted fan". Decades of hard work have taken a toll on her. "Digging post holes changed a woman," she notes. Granny has weathered sickness, the death of a husband, the death of a baby, hard farm labor, tending to sick neighbors, yet she has kept everything together. She has "spread out the plan of life and tucked in the edges neat and orderly".
However, for Granny life has not always gone according to plan. Sixty years ago she was to marry George. "She put on the white veil and set out the white cake for him, but he didn’t come." Granny has tried to forget the pain and shame of being jilted, yet on her deathbed, this memory keeps resurfacing.
Once again, her thoughts shift. She imagines finding her dead child, Hapsy, after wandering through several rooms. Hapsy is standing with a baby on her arm, and suddenly Granny becomes Hapsy and Hapsy becomes the baby. Then the image fades away and Hapsy comes in close to say, "I thought you’d never come."
Granny’s thoughts wander back to George. She decides she would like to see him again, after all. She wants to make sure he understands that he did not ruin her life; she was able to pick up the pieces. She found a good husband and had children and a house "like any other woman".
Father Connolly arrives to administer the last rites. Granny feels she does not need the priest. She made her peace with God long ago. As she senses her time running out, she thinks of all the things she wants to tell her children, who have assembled to say their goodbyes. She thinks of Hapsy and wonders if she will see her again.
Granny asks God for a sign of assurance that she is loved and accepted, but there is no sign. Feeling as if God has rejected her just as George once did, Granny feels immense grief and, with that, the candle blows out and she dies.