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We don't know all that much about Cornelia aside from what Granny tells us about her, along with what we can gather from her few lines of dialogue. It's hard to picture her, too, since we're not given any details about her mannerisms or what she looks like. She could be dressed like a circus clown, for all we know.
Even though we wouldn't recognize Cornelia if we ran into her on the street, we can't help but feel a lot of sympathy for this character. First of all, she's super nice and Granny pretty much treats her like dirt. She's constantly asking Granny if she needs anything and Granny usually responds by snapping at her. Here's a typical exchange:
"I thought you might want something."
"I do. I want a lot of things. First off, go away and don't whisper." (14-15)
We know that Cornelia is a kind and caring person because she tirelessly tries to make Granny more comfortable and never once loses patience with her. Don't forget—this nice woman's mother is dying, so she's understandably pretty distressed. Still, instead of seeing Cornelia sobbing hysterically, we're told that:
Her features were swollen and full of little puddles. (30)
Her distress and anguish are depicted as consuming, yet muted, which makes us feel even more sympathy for her.
It may seem a little strange that this character we know so little about is someone whom we're encouraged to feel such sympathy towards, but it kind of makes sense if we take a step back.
This story evokes sadness, but let's get real for a minute: Granny isn't exactly the most likeable character in the world. Some readers might not even be all that devastated when this crotchety old lady dies. So, even if we're not completely connected to Granny, Cornelia's character gives us a place to channel our sadness and emotion.
Cornelia's character is also super important because she helps reveal things about Granny, and that's who this story is really all about, right?
Granny tells us, for instance, that Cornelia "was always being tactful and kind" (10). Based on what we see of Cornelia's dialogue, Granny seems right on about this one. As we already mentioned, Cornelia is always at Granny's beck and call, and, from the sounds of it, anyone who could put up with Granny's cantankerous ways could probably qualify for sainthood. All of this makes her the perfect foil to Granny, since Granny's gruff exterior is even more pronounced next to the super sweet Cornelia.
Similarly, Granny's assessment of Cornelia tells us a lot about the kinds of qualities that Granny values and embodies. The narrator relates Granny's perspective:
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. (10)
Wow, most parents would probably be happy to have good and dutiful kids who do their homework and brush their teeth, but not Granny. As we get to know Granny, though, this makes perfect sense. Granny marches to the beat of her own drum and isn't about to submit to the expectations of others. Her dismay over Cornelia's penchant for duty and good confirms this crucial aspect of Granny's character.
Perhaps most importantly, Cornelia shows us just how much Granny's mental state is deteriorating, despite her insistence that she's totally fine. Take a look at this exchange between Granny and Cornelia, for example:
'Here's Doctor Harry.'
'I won't see that boy again. He just left five minutes ago.'
'That was this morning, Mother. It's night now.' (35-37)
This is crucial information for readers to have. If we're hoping that Granny's going to pull through, Cornelia steps in to give us a reality check.