Phoenix Jackson Mind Over Matter By Welty

Essay, Research Paper

Novelist Eudora Welty is often studied and adored by many

readers; her much deserved recognition comes from her brilliant, deeply

compassionate, and lively stories and novels (Ford 36). Like many of her

stories, Eudora Welty’s "A Worn Path" is set in Mississippi. In

"A Worn Path," Welty focuses on an old woman’s journey to Natchez and

on the many obstacles that she encounters along the way. Phoenix is going to

town to get medication for her beloved grandson. But he trip is difficult

because nature and her handicaps are making it hard for her to reach her

destination. Nevertheless, the old woman boldly continues along the equally old

path, struggling every step of the way. Even though Phoenix faces a number of

obstacles, she reaches her destination and triumphs over her physical handicaps

and over nature’s barriers by relying on her inner strengths. Although Phoenix

is nearly blind, she does not let her failing eyesight keep her from reaching

her destination; she relies on her feet to take her where she needs to go.

"Old Phoenix would have been lost had she not distrusted her eyesight and

depended on her feet to know where to take her (162)." The ragged old woman

inches her feet forward with the aid of a makeshift cane, dragging her untied

shoelaces along the icy road. Phoenix’s feet carry her to the top of the hill

and then carefully guide her down the hill. But her eyes fail her as she nears

the bottom of the hill and her dress gets snagged in a thorn bush. "Old

eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush (159)." She carefully frees

herself and continues along the path. When Phoenix nears a fallen tree that lays

over the creek, she closes her eyes and lets her feet guide her across it. Her

feet take her across the fields and lead her out of the swamp and through the

maze. As she makes her way through the corn field, she stumbles across a tall,

dark figure. "Ghost," she said sharply, "who be you the ghost of?

For I have heard of nary death close by (160)." Her eyesight tricks her

into believing that it is a ghost, or perhaps, the Grim Reaper that has come to

take her away. When Phoenix gets no response from the "ghost," she

bravely touches the figure and realizes that it is only a scarecrow. The

relieved woman kicks up her dependable feet and dances with him. Phoenix

acknowledges that it is nature’s job to stall her. However, she makes it clear

that she has no time for the barriers that are being thrown across her path. She

knows that her life is limited and she has no time for obstructions. When she

finds herself snagged on a thorn bush, she talks to it as she patiently frees

herself. "Thorns, you doing your appointed work Never want to let folks

pass-no sir (159)." As Phoenix wobbles along, she comes across a sitting

buzzard and in three simple words she lets him know that he will not dine upon

her. "Who you watching (160)?" She slowly sways past him and continues

her journey, while nature carefully plans the next obstacle. Sure enough, as

Phoenix stands and ponders, a big black dog creeps up behind her. "Old

woman," she said to herself, "that black dog come up out of the weeds

to stall you off (161)." She accepts the fact that the black dog is merely

following nature’s orders. Phoenix’s old body is not as quick as her wit. When

Phoenix is startled by the huge mutt, her mind reacts much faster than her body,

causing her to drop into a weed-cushioned trench. The old woman is discovered by

a young hunter who quickly snatches her out of the ditch. As they converse,

Phoenix catches a glimpse of a shiny nickel that drops out of the hunter’s

pouch. Her mind reacts; her face lights up and she claps her hands. "Look

at that dog! She laughed as if in admiration. He ain’t scared of nobody. He a

big black dog (161)." Knowing that her old body needs plenty of time to

grab the nickel, she uses her wit to shift the hunter’s attention toward the

"fearless" dog. As the hunter sets off to prove his own fearlessness,

Phoenix goes for the coin. "She was slowly bending forward by that time

(162)." She gradually bows and places the coin in her apron. As Jackson

slowly lifts her body, she notices a bird flying above her. "Her lips

moved. God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing (162)." She

realizes that God is watching her sin. The culpable woman boldly faces the man,

ready to admit her guilt. After a few moments, Phoenix concludes that the hunter

is clueless of her thievery so the witty woman subtly confesses to the man:

"I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I

done," (162)." Phoenix hobbles along, happy about the shiny nickel in

her pocket, yet unsure of why she needs or wants it. Although Phoenix’s

deteriorating memory keeps her from knowing why she is making the journey, her

determination surpasses her uncertainty. The strong-willed woman has overcome

every obstacle that nature has put across her path. "Keep out from under

these feet, little bob-whites….Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t

let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way (159)." She

bravely warns the animals to keep out of her way. When the hunter tells her to

go home, she firmly states that she is going to town, not home. "I bound to

go to town, mister," said Phoenix. "The time come around (161)."

The hunter mistakenly concludes that the old woman is going to town to see

Santa. Phoenix does not know why she is going to town either, but that does not

keep her from getting there. Even though the trail is treacherous for someone

her age, she is determined to get where she has to go. Phoenix’s purpose is to

get medication for her grandson who swallowed lye a few years earlier. "Old

Phoenix Jackson makes her journey on "The Worn Path" to fetch the

"soothing medicine" for her little grandson (DLB 526). When Phoenix

reaches her destination, she informs the attendant of her presence but forgets

why she is there. "With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited,

silent, erect and motionless, just as if she were in armor (163)." After a

few minutes, the nurse reminds Phoenix of her purpose and her face lights up.

"I remembers so plain now. I not going to forget him again, no, the whole

enduring time (164)." Phoenix apologizes for being forgetful and vows to

never forget her grandson again. The nurse hands Phoenix the medicine and she

strains her eyes in an attempt to see the label. The attendant offers Phoenix a

few pennies. "It’s Christmas time, Grandma, said the attendant. Could I

give you a few pennies out of my purse (164)?" But the witty old woman cons

the nurse out of a nickel instead. Phoenix taps her makeshift cane and readies

to leave. She has already decided on how she is going to spend her "newly

found" treasure. "I going to the store and buy my child a little

windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe

there such a thing in the world (164)." Knowing that it is Christmas, the

loving grandmother is going to buy a gift for her grandson. "Phoenix’s act

of love and compassion is primary to the story: the deep-grained habit of love (CLC

419)." Indeed, Phoenix’s love for her only living relative is her greatest

strength of all. Although the ragged old woman suffers from many handicaps, she

starts her journey mentally prepared for the obstacles awaiting her. Phoenix

summons her inner strengths and prevails over every barrier. She relies on her

trustworthy feet to make up for her impaired vision. Her wit makes up for her

frail body. Her determination makes up for her aged memory. But most of all, her

love for her grandson her keeps her going. Clearly, the frail, forgetful,

stubborn and loving old woman can overcome anything.

Ford, Richard. "Bonhomie For A Southern Belletrist." New Yorker 19

Feb. 1996: 36. Phillips, Robert L. Jr. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Eudora

Welty. vol. 33. ed. Daniel G Marowski. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985.

419. Vande Kieft, Ruth. Dictionary of Literary Biography: Eudora Welty. vol. 2.

ed. Jeffrey Helterman. Michigan: Gale Research, 1978. 524-526. Welty, Eudora.

"A Worn Path." Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet

et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 158-164.


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