Q1) Like many classic works of literature, “A Worn Path” features a journey and a quest. Discuss the elements of plot and structure that dramatize Phoenix's journey. What are the obstacles to her quest, and how does she overcome them?
Q2) In answer to a student who write to ask her, “ Is the grandson really dead?” Welty responded, “My best answer would be: Phoenix is alive.” What might have led the students to ask that question? How can the author's remark be seen as an answer?
Q3) State as fully as possible the theme of the story. Discuss the way the characterization of Phoenix contributes to the theme.
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The journey/quest is to make it to town to obtain medication for her grandson's throat. It was damaged when he swallowed lye. The trip to town creates many obstacles for the elderly woman. Among them are her age and mobility, her race-which is African American, her eyesight, and the terrain she must traverse to get to town. Phoenix uses a cane and is brushed with thorns, and her age and lack of agility lead her to fall into a ditch. She encounters those who demean her because of her race.
Readers and critics alike theorize whether the grandson is alive or dead. The fact he is never seen leads some to ask. The character of Phoenix and the author herself claim she is.
Themes in the novel include racism, which is apparent with the hunter, who helps her out of the ditch, yet attempts to intimidate her with the gun. The nurse who calls her "aunt" and treats her dismissively, and the woman who ties her shoe and calls her granny. The terms are meant to be condescending.
Another theme is duty. Phoenix must fulfill her duty to her grandson to get his medicine, no matter how difficult it is. The doctor's office is duty-bound to supply her with medication for as long as she makes the trip to obtain it.
The question of whether Phoenix's grandson is alive is an intriguing one, and Welty's response is important. Consider Phoenix's name, which is an allusion to the phoenix of legendary fame. This mythical bird, only one of which exists at a time, self-ignites at the end of its life and burns. From the ashes a new phoenix emerges.
In the story, Phoenix Jackson is an old woman whose physical description, including the red rag on her head, also associates her with the bird. In the doctor's office as she is repeatedly asked how her grandson is doing, Phoenix becomes confused until "a flicker and then a flame of recognition" comes over her. Symbolically, at this moment Phoenix is self-igniting, and immediately afterward she is able to answer the questions. In effect, coming to the doctor's office to obtain medicine for her grandson is a rejuvenating experience for her. She travels "a worn path" because she's made the trip many times; she and her grandson, she says, "are the only two left in the world." Without him, she would be alone. Phoenix must continue to make the trip to stay alive herself; she must believe her grandson is alive.
Whether her grandson is alive or not doesn't matter. Phoenix must make the journey because it is what's keeping her alive. She sees it as her destiny and it is a pattern and a path she knows well. Despite her skeptical reception at the doctor's office, she will continue making this trip until she dies.
I think we need to be aware of the metaphorical importance of the journey and the various obstacles that Phoenix faces. There is a definite sense in which we can view this journey both in a literal and a symbolic level, as Phoenix Jackson shows that she has the resolute attitude and grim determination necessary to face all of the various obstacles she must endure and overcome to reach her goal.
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