A Worn Path by Eudora Welty, a story of perseverance, love, courage, and kindness. Phoenix Jackson, an elderly African American woman, traveling on foot through the many terrains of Natchez Trace, Mississippi. During her journey through the Trace she runs into a hunter and his dog that come her aid after she falls.
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She makes her way into the town of Natchez, where she stops a lady shopper on the street to ask for assistance in tying her shoe laces. She continues through town, decorated for Christmas, to the physician’s office in a tall building to get medicine for her grandson. A not so friendly office attendant received her at the desk, fortunately a nurse knew who she was. The nurse reluctantly brought her the medicine that she had come so far for. The same not so friendly attendant handed her a nickel in the Christmas spirit. Phoenix left and settled on going to buy her grandson a paper windmill on the way out of town.
Phoenix moves along through her journey and her hardships. The forest animals she has to run off and tells them to stay out from under her feet. The bushes, trees and branches that seem to grab at her to keep her from moving on. She doesn’t give up on the journey no matter what is thrown at her. Her striped dress, apron made of sugar sacks, her untied, unlaced shoes and her cane made of an old umbrella show how impoverished her life is. Added to this when she picks up a nickel the hunter drops hoping that he won’t notice, he does but doesn’t let on after he comes back with his dog from running off a stray that had gone after her.
Was she given the name Phoenix because she perseveres through all of this and rises up from the ashes to overcome like the mythical Phoenix?
The courage Phoenix shows standing up to the hunter when he discredits her, implies she is too old to walk as far as he does while he is hunting and points his rifle in her face like she is too old and feeble to take care of herself. Her courage is also shown when the office attendant and nurse keep pointing out that she is a charity case. She just stands there looking at them with an unflinching look on her face. The courage she has comes from the love in her heart, not from being stronger or richer than she is.
Throughout the story is implied that Phoenix is not only old physically but old mentally. When she sits down beside the creek after crossing by way of a log, the young boy brings her a plate of cake, but the boy and the cake weren’t really there. When she is at the physician’s office and has to sit and remember why she is there and how her grandson is. Her memory had left her. Welty describes her skin as having numberless branching wrinkles, like having a small tree on her forehead.
A Worn Path is illustrated in the old south, not long after the slaves had been freed after the Civil War. This is depicted in more than one way in this story. How people treat Phoenix when she comes across them, the hunter for example, how he talks to her like she is still a slave, not really worth his conversation, or how he calls her granny instead of being courteous and calling her ma’am. When she comes across the lady shopper on the street in town, how she to refers to her as grandma when stopped on the street. Phoenix treats the racial strife as just another hinderance in her journey. She just sticks out her stiff chin and takes it in stride.
I have learned from this story that no matter our age, race, or societal class, we all make sacrifices for the ones that we love. That we all have pride when it comes to those thinking we need help or charity. No one wants to feel like they need help or charity. The story made me think of my own grandmother and how if she was treated the way Phoenix was, I would have to stand up for her. Although she is one of the strongest women I know, she could have, like Phoenix, without a doubt taken care of herself. If felt sad for Phoenix but also for the racist/unsympathetic characters. At the time of this story, no one had learned yet to consider others for who they are rather than the color of their skin. Phoenix had tons of love in her heart and talk to others as people not their race. After reading the story a few times and then talking about short stories in class, I read A Worn Path out loud. More than once, and to my son. This really does help you to learn, understand and comprehend a story.
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