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“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty

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“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty is the story of a grandmother’s love for her grandchild. The very name of the protagonist, Phoenix, a mythological bird that rose from the ashes, is an indication that the tale is really about resurrection. Phoenix never knows if her grandson is still alive, but hope and love lead her through her journey to town to find medicine for her grandson. Phoenix faces several obstacles along the way. Love and sheer determination prevails over old age and all obstacles and risks that come in her way.

Embarking on an arduous journey is a major obstacle for anyone especially someone as old as Phoenix Jackson. Phoenix Jackson is “very old and small,” and “walks like a pendulum in a grandfather clock” (507). She uses a “thin, small cane made from an umbrella” (507). Yet she is determined to travel down the worn path to reach town. The worn path is a metaphor that symbolizes life with its ups and downs.

The very beginning of the journey gives us a glimpse of how challenging this trip will be for an old lady like Phoenix Jackson. She embarks on her journey “on a bright frozen day in the early morning” in December (507). She goes through woods and then faces an uphill climb through pines followed by a downhill path through oaks. Her dress gets caught in a thorny bush. Phoenix also manages to walk across a log with her eyes shut, a clear indication of her courage and conviction. She survives a barbed wire fence unscathed and sees a scarecrow that momentarily brings happiness. All these accomplishments symbolize the various harsh realities and hurdles a person faces throughout his or her life.

In addition to these natural obstacles, Phoenix also encounters perils in human and animal form. She is first startled by a black dog and falls into a ditch: “A white man finally come along and found her-a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain” (510). The hunter pulls her out of the ditch. This depicts a small change in her fortune. The hunter tries to get her to change her mind about the journey, but Phoenix is not fazed. The hunter points a gun at her and says, “Doesn’t the gun scare you” (511)? This occurrence indicates both stupidity of youth and racism. Phoenix even manages to pocket a nickel, dropped by the hunter, and mumbles “God watching me the whole time, I come to stealing” (511). This little incident shows her willingness to even defy God, the ultimate obstacle, and incur the risk of being caught red-handed by the hunter. Phoenix is driven by her cause.

Phoenix Jackson encounters several obstacles along the worn path but manages to overcome them. Her tenacity is remarkable considering her age and health. Although she is uncertain if her grandson is still alive, her love for him is powerful and the journey remains her mission. Love for her grandson motivates her to take the path. She remains determined to overcome any obstacle to achieve her goal. Perseverance and self-determination makes Phoenix Jackson an exceptional character.

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