“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty, is a heartrending tale about an old but determined woman set out on a thorny path, full of struggles and hardships. Welty portrays a unique character, Phoenix Jackson, black, old and frail woman, but very resolute towards her goal. The story opens up on a chilly December morning of Christmas, when Phoenix embarks on her journey. Phoenix is described as an old woman, managing to walk firmly with the use of a cane to balance her body. She walks through bumpy lands, shaking up her cane, trying to move all animals coming in her way, moving towards her destination. On her way towards her destination, she meets many hurdles, an old man, some kids, finally reaching the town to get medicine for her grandson. She is treated rudely by the attendant at the hospital who talks to Phoenix as if she were dumb. “”Are you deaf?” cried the attendant.” Towards the end, she does meet some kind gesture by the nurse, who hands her the medicine as charity and a nickel. Phoenix walks out saying that she will buy a paper windmill for her grandson. Welty beautifully describes the settings of the background in depth, with use of simile at various places. For instance, “This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.” The protagonist is an old Negro woman and her physical condition can be judged by the way Welty describes her walks. “She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock.”
The act of balance between heaviness and lightness shows how old and feeble Phoenix’s body is and depicts the efforts she has to put for moving her steps forward. The use of cane for supporting her legs creates a poignant feeling into the readers mind and Welty successfully manages to form a base for an emotional trip as the story progresses forward. At this point of the story, readers doesn’t know where she is headed to and focuses more on descriptions of Phoenix’s looks, the surroundings and the rough path. “She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes.” “Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles… illumined by a yellow burning under the dark.” Welty gives a crisp pictorial view of her leading lady as an old woman with a wrinkled face but a glow of warmth and radiance that forms a dignified image into the reader’s mind. Through the beginning of the story, the readers start developing a sense of sympathy and a bond of affection for the protagonist. “A Worn Path”, which obviously talks about the physical path through which Phoenix travels regularly, truly signifies the mental path of Phoenix’s life filled with struggles and hurdles.
As the story progresses forward, the readers are exposed to much more about the character of the protagonist. Phoenix, the protagonist of the story, is depicted as a kind woman. She doesn’t want to hurt the small creatures and animals hiding behind the thick bushes on her way. “Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!” The use of word ‘Old Phoenix’ represents the magnificence of the woman. She is herself old and tired but she still cares about other diminutive creatures and she doesn’t want to hurt them. The protagonist’s determination is obvious by how she walks through the difficult times. Welty uses beautiful words to show the hardships the old woman has to fight with. She twists her sentences in mellow poetic form. It shows how amidst of the hardships, the woman has hopes. “Down in the hollow was the mourning dove—it was not too late for him.” This sentence shows the significance of hopes. “It was not too late for him” means that, one shouldn’t stop fighting and it is never too late. Phoenix speaks to herself whenever she meets any obstacle during her journey. “”I in the thorny bush,” she said. “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.”” This shows how amiably she treats the hurdles on her way without nagging or being irritated. “Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across.” This sentence shows how Welty has described the protagonist as a very realistic character who is not very brave and heroic, but she fights over her fears wholeheartedly. Even till this stage, readers do not know where Phoenix is headed to. But the descriptions provided by Welty about the route, the obvious worn path, the readers get the idea that Phoenix is headed somewhere important because the path is not easy but still Phoenix walks ahead through hills, thorns and bushes with determination. It indicates that something imperative pulls Phoenix towards itself and she has to move forward despite all the difficulties.
Welty uses metaphor beautifully in the story. “Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe.” In this sentence, Welty compares the clogged bushes of tree to mistletoe which signifies the beauty of Christmas she sees in the nature. Welty is trying to project Phoenix as a person who sees underlying beauty in small things even during times of severe intricacy. As the plot moves forward, Welty tries to show some more insights on the determination of the lady. “She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake… But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air.” Phoenix seems tired and hungry and her mind plays cruelly with her. But she doesn’t stop with that. She moves ahead daringly, ignoring the needs of her mind and body. This strengthens the beliefs the readers have placed on the protagonist. Even as Phoenix sees a scarecrow and misjudges it for a ghost, she isn’t scared. On closer look she realizes that it is a scarecrow and dances with it. This shows her how happy she is even when times aren’t good. The readers are intrigued by the determination of this old soul, walking ahead steadfast and brave, even though they do not know the cause of this willpower. Even though the readers are anxious to know about the reason behind Phoenix’s journey, the words filled by Welty grips readers to move ahead with the story.
With the progression of the plot, the tone of the story remains consistent with detailed descriptions of the surroundings and the path through which Phoenix walks. Welty uses simile to its abundance. “Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.” Welty compares the movement of Phoenix’s body to that of a milkweed. Welty also uses some poetic touch to the way of her creative writing. “Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull.” The sentences unfold itself beautifully and seize the reader’s interest melodiously. Another extraordinary quality of the protagonist is revealed later in story by Welty, when Phoenix falls down into a small pit and she is unable to get up. She doesn’t give up or show a fret of tire on her face. “”Old woman,” she said to herself, “that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.”” This sentence shows how her strength widens as she gladly speaks to herself hoping to find someone for help. The white man offering help to the old black Phoenix, displays a sign of racial integration in the society. But he openly scorns her self determination and will power by mocking her again and again. He first nonchalantly asks her to go back without trying to understand her motive behind the long journey. He then laughs at her, commenting on her race, saying that how stupid she is for taking up a long and tiresome journey, just to get a glimpse of Santa Claus in the town. “”I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!”” But even as he calls her colored, she doesn’t move a nerve. Phoenix doesn’t try to fight with him or explain to him why she is headed for the town. Welty pierces the readers with a moving stance when Phoenix silently grabs a nickel that had fallen down from the white man’s pocket but also blames herself for being a thief. The character has been portrayed as a strong person throughout the story. Even when the man points a gun onto her face, she doesn’t show any sign of panic. She tells him how tough she has emerged in time.
As the old woman moves closer to the town, the narrative tone changes and readers feel a pang in the heart when people treat her with much unkind behavior. “A charity case, I suppose,” said an attendant who sat at the desk before her.” This shows how people treat a woman like Phoenix, who has already been through a lot, making things more difficult for her. At this stage of the story, people are in for a big surprise. They are unable to fathom why a woman so cheery like Phoenix, doesn’t talk when the attendant keeps pressurizing her to speak up. Welty suddenly reveals that Phoenix is so old that she is unable to remember why she started for the town in the first place. And the shock doesn’t end here. Welty is successful in shocking readers, as they find out that Phoenix travels frequently to the town to get medicine for her grandson. The parents of the child are no longer alive and the child needs frequent treatment for his throat, which has been ruptured by swallowing lye. Phoenix gets the medicine for her grandson as charity and a nickel. She is delighted by the thought of another nickel and waves off goodbye to the nurse saying that she will buy a windmill for her grandson. “Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.” The story end with this sentence, ironically, begins a new journey full of difficulties, a way back to home.
The story is highly emotional, giving readers insights about how a woman can be so determined at such an old age and still show no sign of stress or tire. The writing is beautiful and brings out the character of Phoenix as a protagonist who will be loved by all readers.
Brown, Kimberly “Literary Analysis of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”” 28 February 2009