A Worn Path Analysis Essay, Research Paper
The Journey of Life
After reading the short story “A Worn Path”, by Eudora Welty, the readers’ perceptions about the events in the story are changed by the symbolism surrounding the protagonist and the conflicts present. Through these, Welty created a very interesting story. “A Worn Path” is about a lonely; elderly colored woman and her journey to town on a mission of love. Phoenix Jackson, is old and has many handicaps, but despite these downfalls she manages to fight off nature in her battle to get into town. The reason she is so desperate to make it to and from town is to pick up medicine for her sick grandson. However, the story is expanded by the use of symbolism and the conflicts that enable the story to be seen as more than a journey to and from town. Along the way she encounters physical challenges, obstacles and danger. Although the hurdles are high, the name Phoenix fits this elderly lady very well; the name implies a mythological creature that dies in fire, but rises from the ashes only to be stronger. Phoenix shows qualities of her name by braving the elements of nature so that her grandson can get the medicine he needs to get well.
Throughout the story Phoenix is faced with many obstacles, but if they could be grouped into categories, they would be placed into four main conflicts: her old age, her health, her grandson’s health and her state of poverty. After reading the passage, “Her eyes were blue with age. 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 ” (53), it is obvious she is a very old woman. What is a lady at that age doing walking several miles, regardless of what she’s going after? Perhaps she was too shy or had too much pride to ask for service of that nature. But, hopefully in today’s society, someone of that age gets the proper respect required for him or her. They deserve it.
Obviously the senses of an individual at her age are failing as time goes on. The story says, “She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her” (53). The fact that she kept tapping the earth in front of her could only mean one thing–she was visually impaired. She was not completely blind because “…she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man’s pocket on to the ground” (56), but she had to have been substantially impaired to have kept tapping her cane in the manner in which she was.
Toward the end of the story the reader finally finds out that Phoenix is on her way to town to get medicine for her ill grandson. The only pertinent information we were given about the cause of the illness is that he “[s]wallowed lye” (58). Phoenix told the nurse that “Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing-medicine” (58). The conflict here is that every time the grandson gets worse, Phoenix has to make another incredibly long journey, especially for a lady her age.
The final conflict rests in the fact that she was poor. The nurse asked Phoenix, “Could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?” Phoenix replied very stiffly, “Five pennies is a nickel” (59). With this remark, Phoenix shows how hard money is to come by for her. She is not ashamed to ask for extra pocket change, so she could buy her grandson a windmill made out of paper. Had she not been poor, she could have taken a cab to the city or had the medicine delivered.
In my opinion, Ms. Welty uses the symbolism in this story not only to show how hard the trip to town is for Phoenix, but also to show how life was in the South. The worn path that Phoenix had to walk on to get into town could be associated by the readers as the paths blacks had to walk to get too much more than a town, but freedom. This association should not be confused with the fact that Phoenix is not walking this path to set herself free, but for her grandson, who needs the medicine she is traveling for. Phoenix ” had to go through a barbed-wire fence” were “she had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps” (54). These words are describing how hard life can be. At times life seems very easy and others feel as if we are creeping and crawling, and trying not to get hurt along the way. Another example of life’s burdens in the story is when Phoenix is traveling up a hill, “[s]eems like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far”(54). The weight of our daily decisions and actions can make life’s burdens seem much heavier, just like climbing uphill. Despite the struggles or the pain, we keep walking in our lives much like Phoenix did on her worn path. The previous examples are just a few of the ways the author has chosen to express symbolism in the story. It is amazing how much the similarities between people’s everyday lives and the story, are expressed through the symbolism.
This literary analysis is not right by any means but it’s not wrong either, according to the author. Eudora Welty wrote this story to capture the imagination of the readers, so therefore whatever the reader believes is by no means wrong. In this story the author provides the reader with many questions that are unanswered. This is done to allow the reader’s imagination to wonder and to come up with their version of what happened in the story. The author does this by not answering certain questions. For example; Is her grandson dead? Do the bumps in the road symbolize the challenges we are faced with in our lives? Etc. Therefore she does not rob the reader of his or her imagination.
Obviously our class liked this story very much because we spent a long time discussing it in-depth. We liked the way the author involved us in the story. She did this by giving us the opportunity to make some decisions. Mrs. Welty created a piece that is both fun and interesting with her creative symbolism and unanswered questions.
At one point in the story the author speaks of Phoenix going through a maze of corn and there was no path. Our lives are much like this. People wonder along not always on a specific path, and just like Phoenix they need to stop and remember where they were headed. The setting, all the bumps in the road, the ditches we fall into, a torn dress, is what makes life worth living. As in our lives, the journey is what life is all about.