What are some literary elements in "A Worn Path"?
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There are numerous literary elements in the story. Irony is found in the conclusion. After making her dangerous and difficult journey, when Phoenix reaches her destination, she momentarily forgets why she has come. Symbolism is present, also. The path she follows, the "worn path," symbolizes her unconditional, continuing love and commitment to her grandson. The path is long, arduous, and dangerous to her very life, but she follows it again and again out of love and sacrifice. External conflict is developed in the story through Phoenix's efforts to prevail over her physical environment and the obstacles it presents--the cold, the stream she must cross, the fence she must go through, the scarecrow that frightens her, etc. Once she reaches what is most likely a county health office, she must deal with the arrogance and hatefulness of the receptionist. Internal conflict is also suggested in this scene. Phoenix endures the woman's humiliating treatment in order to get what she came for, the "soothing medicine" for her grandson. A sign of Phoenix's internal conflict can be found in the muscle that twitches in her face as she is being treated with such disrespect.
Clearly “A Worn Path” draws on the myth and symbolism of the phoenix, the golden bird that periodically consumes itself in flames so that it, rising from the ashes, may be renewed. Phoenix Jackson renews her ancient body on each visit to the doctor’s remote office. The chief clues: the woman’s name (“Phoenix”), the story’s early description of her (her stick makes a sound “like the chirping of a solitary little bird”; “a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illuminated by a yellow burning under the dark”), a reference to cyclic time (“I bound to go to town, mister. The time come around”—and the time is Christmas, i.e., a time of renewal), her “ceremonial stiffness” in the doctor’s office, and finally, the words “Phoenix rose carefully.”
The myth is wonderfully supported by details, details that are strictly irrelevant (e.g., Phoenix’s deception of the hunter, which nets her a nickel, and her cadging of a nickel’s worth of pennies from the nurse) but that make the character unsentimental and thoroughly convincing.
As a narrative, the story is particularly interesting because exposition takes place from the beginning almost until the very end (paragraph 94). The complication is developing almost coincidentally, for the difficulties Phoenix experiences are also a part of the monumentally difficult conditions of her life. The disclosure about her grandson (paragraphs 78–92) is an additional complication, which is always on Phoenix’s mind, but which we do not learn until the attendants bring up the topic. The story’s climax is the speech by Phoenix in paragraph 94, in which her recognition and determination are revealed. The conclusion is marked by a continued focus upon her as she retreats down the stairs with the intention of buying a toy before returning home.
The plot is built up as a contrast between Phoenix, on one side, and the symbolism of the forces of poverty, natural obstacles, distance, age, and the illness of her grandson, on the other. One might also interpret the plot in terms of nobility and strength of character standing against forces of destructiveness. These forces are not malevolent, but are shown rather to be a part of the natural course of things. Because there is no one actively attending to Phoenix and her grandson, her plight may be seen as reflecting the indifference and lack of concern of a social and political system that ignores the aged and ill, particularly among African Americans. The story, however, does not insist on the possible political-economic criticism, but instead reveals the pathos of Phoenix’s situation.
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