A Worn Path In the story “A Worn Path” the main character’s name is Phoenix which alludes to “the mythical bird that consumed itself in fire after five hundred years and rose renewed from its ashes. This death-birth motif gives a meaningful context for details which seem merely descriptive”(Seidl, p. 53). “Welty’s main subject is the intricacies of human relationships, particularly as revealed through her characters’ interactions in intimate social encounters. Welty’s outlook is hopeful, and love is viewed as a redeeming presence in the midst of isolation and indifference” (One Writers Beginnings). Ms.
Welty takes an old woman, Phoenix Jackson, on a seemingly impossible journey using general symbolism and Christian symbolism. She begins the journey with general symbols of everyday life. The journey itself is like life, it has its ups and downs. “The woods were deep and still” (Welty, p. 159) and “Down in the hollow was the mourning dove” (Welty, p. 159) makes the reader think of death.
Other symbols that make us think of life or youth and death or age are: “Seem like there is chains about my feet” (Welty, p. 159) make it clear that Phoenix is thinking about death or slavery; “Up through the pines” (Welty, p. 159) makes the reader think of youth; “Now down through the oaks” (Welty, p. 159) is another symbol of death; “She had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps” (Welty, p. 160)is another sign of youth; Phoenix’s hair and eyes also make us think of youth and death since the reader knows S.
Carney 2 Phoenix is old because of the repeated use of “old,” and “Granny,” and “Grandma” but her hair is not gray but “still black” (Welty, p. 159); Phoenix also saw a buzzard in the field, making Phoenix think of death; “I walking in their sleep” (Welty, p. 160) is a phrase used by Phoenix as she walked “past cabins silver from weather, with the doors and windows boarded shut”(Welty, p. 160) that makes the reader think Phoenix has outlived just about everyone she has known in her life. Other symbols of death are where “the live-oaks met” ..
“it was dark as a cave”(Welty, p. 161); The “black dog” (Welty, p. 161) who knocked Phoenix in the ditch; the scarecrow is a reference to death in the story because Phoenix performs a little dance of death with it; and finally how Phoenix slowly bends forward, her chin almost even with her knees as she picked the nickel up off the ground. Some of the Christmas symbols certainly portray Christian symbolism. As Phoenix crosses a log that “was laid across the creek” the reader thinks of crossing the river Jordan; Phoenix “carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella” (Welty, p. 158) makes the reader think of a candy cane; “a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe” (Welty, p.
159) is also another sign of Christmas; the “red and green electric lights” (Welty, p. 162); the bells ringing also remind Phoenix that it is Christmas time in the city; the lady that “came along in the crowd, carrying an armful of red-, green-, and silver-wrapped presents” (Welty, p. 163) who tied Phoenix’s shoe and the attendant who gives her a nickel make the reader think of Christmas as a time for giving; as the reader S. Carney 3 thinks of Phoenix’s grandson we also think of Jesus; and finally as Phoenix is going to the store to buy her “child a little windmill” makes us think of the star. “A Worn Path” suggests that “the end of the road is death and renewal of life” (Seidl, p. 54).
By looking through the eyes of Phoenix the reader learns that life is a path filled with mental deaths and rebirths. Everyone is frequently close to giving up against everyday struggles; yet through equivalently frequent aids, you persist on spiritually revived. If you have a good enough cause you do not give up. S. Carney 4 Welty, Eudora, One Writers Beginnings, Internet, 1994 Seidl, Frances.
Eudora Welty’s Phoenix. Vol. 6 of Notes on Mississippi Writers, University of Southern Mississippi, 1974. Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path.” Literature for Composition.
Ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. 158-164.