A Worn Path

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A Worn Path

Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” is a story that emphasizes the natural symbolism of the surroundings. As the story begins, we are introduced to our main character, Phoenix Jackson; she is described as a small, old Negro woman. I believe that the name Eudora Welty gives our main character is very symbolic. The legend of the Phoenix is about a fabled sacred bird of ancient Egyptians. The bird is said to come out of Arabia every 500 years to Heliopolis, where it burned itself on the altar and rose again from its ashes, young and beautiful. Phoenix, the women in the story, represents the myth of the bird because she is described as being elderly and near the end of her life. Phoenix can hardly walk and uses a cane made of an old umbrella to aid her. Her skin is described as old and wrinkly, but yet with a golden color running beneath it “Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath”(55). Her skin tone represents the golden feathers of the Phoenix and her grandson represents the next Phoenix that will be given life when she dies. The trip to the city to get the medicine represents the mythological trip that the Phoenix takes to the sun to die. Most likely this journey along a worn path through the woods, will be one of her last.
We are told of Phoenix’s journey into the woods on a cold December morning. Although we are know that she is traveling through woodland, the author refrains from telling us the reason for this journey. In the midst of Phoenix’s travels, Eudora Welty describes the scene: “Deep, deep the road went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live-oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave” (Welty 55). The gloomy darkness that the author has created to surround Phoenix in this scene is quite a contrast to the small Negro woman’s positive outlook; Phoenix is a very determined person who is full of life. As Phoenix begins to walk down the dark path, a black dog approaches her from a patch of weeds near a ditch. As he comes toward her, Phoenix is startled and compelled to defend herself: “she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milk-weed” (55). Here, the author contrasts the main character’s strong will with her small, frail physique.
As Phoenix is lying in the ditch, “A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull.” (55). Phoenix may be reaching for divine intervention but receives no such assistance. She then begins to talk to herself, which she does quite frequently throughout her journey. Eudora is trying to show the reader just how lonely and frightened Phoenix has become. While she lay in the ditch talking to herself, Phoenix refers to herself as “old woman.” At a number of points throughout the story, Phoenix refers to herself as old. Although we are reminded regularly of her old age, it is clear that Phoenix still has many years ahead of her. The author brings realism into the story by frequently describing the realities of old age.
After a short while, Phoenix is rescued: “A white man finally came along and found her—a hunter, a young man with his dog on a chain” (56). When the white man approaches her, Phoenix is still laying on her back in the ditch. When Welty tells the reader that the white man has “found” her, she is implying that Phoenix is lost, but she very clearly is not. The white man asks Phoenix what she is doing in the ditch, and she replies “Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be turned over, mister” (56) as she reaches out her hand. When Phoenix refers to herself as June-bug on its back, she is letting the hunter know how helpless she is. The hunter then lifts her up and makes sure she is okay.
The

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