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The title of Eudora Welty’s story “A Worn Path” seems significant for a number of reasons, including the following:
- The very opening sentence of the story not only mentions a path but implies that the adjective “worn” may be relevant to the old age of the protagonist:
an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods . . . .
- The word “path” is in some ways a metaphor for the Phoenix’s larger journey through life.
- Much of the story involves Phoenix’s literal journeys as she walks down paths.
- The phrase “a worn path” can suggest, metaphorically, the relative lack of variety in Phoenix’s life.
- The fact that Phoenix spends much of the story walking on paths may symbolize her determination. She rarely stops to rest; she rarely “takes it easy.” The path may thus symbolize, to some degree, the challenges she faces and overcomes in life.
- Sometimes her journey gives Phoenix confidence in herself, as in the following passage:
At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.
“Now comes the trial,” said Phoenix. Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.
“I wasn't as old as I thought,”she said.
- The variety of obstacles Phoenix faces on the path symbolizes the variety of challenges she faces in her life.
- The fact that Phoenix often follows a path calls attention to those instances in which she must create a new path for herself, as in the following incident:
She passed through the old cotton and went into a field of dead corn. It whispered and shook, and was taller than her head. 'Through the maze now,' she said, for there was no path.
- Sometimes the fact that the path is worn means that Phoenix has chances to relax a bit, as when she says, “Walk pretty . . . . This the easy place. This the easy going.”
- Near the end of the story, Phoenix can't remember something and doesn't speak until asked the same question repeatedly. This fact suggest that she herself is becoming "worn" down by age.
- The title of the story anticipates the very last sentence of the story, thus giving the work a kind of symmetry:
Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.
Perhaps the final two words ("going down") imply her approaching mortality. In any case, both at the very beginning and at the very end of the story, Phoenix is walking her “worn path.”
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