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"A Worn Path" is essentially a love story, the story of Phoenix Jackson's love for her grandson. The little boy is never seen in the story, and some critics have suggested that he is no longer living, but both of these observations do nothing to diminish the power of the narrative. The point of the story is suggested by its title. Each time Phoenix makes the journey from her home in the country into town to get the medicine that relieves her grandson's suffering, she follows the same path. Even when her sight fails, she can follow the path; she has traveled it so many times it is worn into her memory.
Phoenix is very old and frail, and the path she follows is hard and dangerous. She climbs a hill; she crosses a creek by walking over it on a fallen log, carefully maintaining her balance. She climbs through fences and fights her way through briers. In the story, she makes her journey in the December cold. Each time Phoenix goes to town, she risks her life--out of love.
When she arrives in town, Phoenix endures the humiliation of racism to get the medicine, and she also brings herself to ask for pennies to add to the nickel she had already stolen from a hunter on the road. Phoenix had felt bad when she slyly took the nickel:
God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing.
A woman of great pride, Phoenix would not have stolen or later asked for money for herself. The money is not for her. At the story's conclusion, she uses the nickel and the pennies to buy a little toy for her grandson, imagining his joy at receiving it.
The point of the story, its theme, is to create a portrait of love in the person of Phoenix Jackson. Phoenix's love for her grandson is fierce, tender, and unselfish. Her willingness to risk her life so that the boy won't suffer, her willingness to beg and steal for him, and her courage in overcoming all obstacles in her path, both literal and figurative, make the story a moving statement about the power and the beauty of love.
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