Worn Path By Eudora Welty Essay Research

Worn Path By Eudora Welty Essay, Research Paper

In ?A Worn Path? Eudora Welty?s plot is not all that clear in the

beginning of her short story, but progresses as her character carries on against

all of the overwhelming forces against her. In this short story a black elderly

woman, Phoenix Jackson, must overcome the odds against her as she valiantly

travels through many obstacles in order to contribute to the wellness of her

grandson, for whom she is making this trip down ?a worn path.? It is at this

point that all of Welty?s readers? hearts open up to this poor, elderly

woman as she makes an attempt to carry on her love for her grandson by taking a

long journey down a familiar path in order to get medication that seems to help

ease his sickness pains. However, there are many forces against Phoenix that

Welty includes in her story in order to make Phoenix?s adventure end in a

victory. Poverty, old age, and her journey through the woods are all of the odds

which Phoenix must overcome. Poverty is a major hardship that most of us will

never have to face, but in Phoenix?s case, poverty is present everyday in her

and her grandson?s life. Since she is in this state of poverty, Phoenix is not

able to enjoy life?s luxuries as others do and must make do with what she can.

As she begins her journey, it becomes clear that she lacks the money to pay for

transportation to and from town; therefore, she starts down her path carrying a

?thin, small cane made from an umbrella? (132). Although Welty never really

emphasizes what this is used for the reader can assume that she uses it because

she does not have the money to buy the actual cane needed to help her walk

properly. Another conflict dealing with poverty arouses when she feels it

necessary to steal from a hunter she encounters in the woods. While the hunter

walks away her sneaky ?fingers slid down and along the ground under the piece

of money with grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a

setting hen? (134). Here Welty shows that Phoenix must do what she has to in

order to survive. Even though it may not appear right, her poverty forces her to

act in a way that she only knows best. For instance, when people have a barrier

separating them between something they want, they are going to do what they can

to achieve their goal no matter what stands in their way. In this case Phoenix

is a poor woman and the money catches her eye. Acting on her instinct, she takes

what is not hers and hopes that she can get away with it. However, because of

her perseverance and determination to better the health of her grandson, Phoenix

journeys into town to receive charity that the doctor?s office provides her.

This ?soothing medicine? they give her is the reason why she makes this trip

in the first place (136). However, she is looked upon as a charity case since

she has no money to pay for the medication he needs and is given the medicine

for free. All of these examples that Welty has described in ?A Worn Path?

allow her story to develop by making readers think about what she writes.

Poverty is an important issue in today?s society and it makes one think of all

the fortunes they have. In this sense, Welty also makes one fear poverty by the

way she addresses it. The images allow one to feel Phoenix?s pain that comes

along with poverty. Joyce Carol Oates backs up this statement by adding that by

?disciplining her [Welty?s] vision in order to gain deeper penetration into

the dark and lovely realities of the lonely human spirit and shaping her fiction

so that each story should be something achieved…? (362). Oates simply means

that Welty goes beyond normal realities in order to grab the reader?s

attention. Through poverty, Welty takes a worldwide problem and stretches it to

a level in which the person reading her story feels saddened by the power she

displays. To be old, poor, and a surrogate mother is a hard job, and Welty does

a wonderful job of portraying this through the underlying problem of poverty.

Another overpowering element in ?A Worn Path? is Phoenix?s age. Welty

writes that she has ?numberless branching wrinkles? which illustrates that

she has many years behind her (132). It is here that Welty begins painting a

portrait in which the reader can envision scenes from her story. Because of her

old age, Phoenix lets her feet do the walking while her mind runs free and wild.

This is where her age seems as though it is a constant problem. As seen in the

movies or in real life, old people often have a problem with keeping all of

their thoughts straight. Not only is it dangerous, but it also adds to the flare

of Welty?s story. Now the odds have gone up against this poor, old woman.

Welty carries on with this image of an old woman traveling a path as if she were

sleep walking. But as she approaches the doctor?s office ? her feet knew to

stop,? and she appeared to have no recollection as to where she is going or

what she is doing there (135). As she enters the office she stares off into

space and ?for[gets] why[she] made [her] long trip? (136). It seems that she

has come all of this way and cannot remember a thing, except the daydreams she

floated in and out of on her way there. However, one thing does stand out: the

gold diploma seal in the doctor?s office (135). Here Welty allows Phoenix, an

old woman, to recall the one thing that symbolizes something to her, a victory.

Phoenix may not recollect why she is there, but that certain document lets her

know that she is where she needs to be. It also stands for a prize, her

grandson?s medicine. A good friend of Welty?s adds that ?there are

half-states, mixtures of dream and reality, or rapid shifts between the two

worlds? which are ?fact and fantasy? (Vande Kieft 135). Ruth Vande Kieft

also explains that ?A Worn Path? is not the only story in which Welty?s

characters drift between dream and fantasy life (82-92). The odds against

Phoenix are definitely taking their toll upon her. On an earlier page, 133, the

author describes one of her movements relating to a baby. Is Welty trying to

imply that Phoenix displays characteristics of a young child, not only in action

but in thoughts as well? Some say that when someone becomes old, they start to

revert back physically as well as mentally. As Welty shows the effects of old

age, it is at this time that the conflicts become very apparent. This particular

conflict is with herself. She is old and cannot stop the occurrences that take

place to her body and mind as she grows older. Another conflict that contributes

to the plot is Phoenix?s journey through the woods. An obvious factor is the

trip to town. Since Phoenix lives out in the country, she must walk a far

distance to encounter any kind of civilization. The title ?A Worn Path?

implies that Phoenix has made this journey many times. Here the reader gets the

impression that these are her marks and that this path is worn because of her.

As she walks through the dangerous terrain, Phoenix encounters a bush which

fails to let her by: ?Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let

folks pass, no sir? (132). Welty describes this path that Phoenix chooses as a

sort of obstacle course. She must stretch and shrink her body in order to get

through the almost impassable obstacles. Even though the path may be worn, it is

as if something is trying to hold her back. Maybe it is a way of telling her

that her grandson may never get better and in actuality the medication she gets

for him may not be working as it seems. Welty insinuates this by the

conversation that takes place between the nurse and Phoenix. The nurse asks

Phoenix if her grandson was any better since her last visit to the doctor?s

office for medication (136). Now the reader can conclude that the medication may

never cure him. However, with her determination and motivation her feet keep on

moving. Along with the thorny bushes, a barbed wire fence and a log over a creek

put her in great danger, but Phoenix continues to proceed with her journey.

After all of these setbacks, she then comes face to face with a white hunter.

Welty uses this white hunter as a conflict because it is relevant to the time

the story took place. The reader can assume from looking at the date above the

story that this was a time which racism was a problem. Therefore, the hunter

nags her a while then pulls his gun slowly up to her. Phoenix replies ?I seen

plenty go off closer by, in my day…? (135). What is exactly meant by this?

One possibility may be that Phoenix feels the hunter caught her stealing.

Phoenix also gives the impression that she may have done this before and gotten

caught. Why would Welty add this in her story? It can be assumed that the date

again has strong significance. Well, the possibilities are endless. But, it is

clearly seen that these encounters that she faces are not common in everyday

life. What do all of these setbacks add to her story? They offer the end of the

journey to be more courageous on Phoenix?s part and they give the reader a

sense of open-heartedness towards Welty?s character. This journey through the

woods shows Phoenix?s love for her grandson. With all of the hardships on this

journey love conquers all and Ruth Van Kieft states: ?There are no significant

barriers to the expressive love of old Phoenix, and this is reflected also in

her sense of familiarity with nature…? (29). This familiarity allows the

reader to feel that Welty?s character has a deep love for nature. In the

story, Welty includes many conversations with animals during her journey through

the woods. Basically Welty?s character appears comfortable with nature and

does not see the journey as a burden, as does the reader, but as an adventure.

Not only does her journey endanger her, but the fact that she is making this

journey for the love of her grandson adds so much more to her effect of the

story. Furthermore, these incidents indicate that Phoenix adapts to the dangers

that face her, and allows the plot to then become clear. Welty catches the

reader?s attention by how real her short story seems. Even though many people

may never experience Phoenix?s problems, the descriptions and images she uses

allows her to create a powerful story in which many feel they can relate to in

some way. Her three major problems, poverty, old age, and some form of a

journey, are all obstacles which all of her readers will one day face as they

travel through their own paths.

Jacobs, Henry E. and Roberts, Edgar V. Literature: An Introduction to Reading

and Writing. 5th ed. new Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998: 131-137. Oates,

Joyce C. ?Eudora Welty.? Contemporary Literary Criticism. 1973 ed. 361.

Vande Kieft, Ruth M. Eudora Welty. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1987.


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