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Phoenix Jackson in “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty has a mission---to travel the worn path and get the medicine that her grandson desperately needs. She has been making this trek for three years since he swallowed lye and burned his throat.
This journey is not easy for Phoenix. The author describes her as quite old. Phoenix does not know her age. She carries an umbrella that she uses as a cane to ward off any critters that try to attack her. Her poor vision often deceives her; for example, she sees a scarecrow that she at first thinks is a man and later a ghost.
Her attitude toward life amazes the reader. She humorously jokes about the difficulty of the path and the things that she encounters.
Her banter serves two purposes. It tells the reader about Phoenix and her beautiful personality. What she says provides much of the humor to give some lightheartedness to a serious story. Phoenix may have always talked to herself to keep company. Much of what she says is addressed to the outside forces that might prevent her from accomplishing her goal.
It is interesting that Phoenix has learned how to respond to the prejudice of the white people she encounters. When the hunter calls her granny or implies that she is going to town to meet Santa Claus, Phoenix does not argue or try to set him right. She keeps her mouth shut and goes on her way. Of course, she is elated that he dropped a nickel that she now has in her pocket.
One of the obvious aspects of Phoenix comes from her memory failure. Everything works as good as possible for Phoenix except that she has spells of drifting off in her thinking:
A big black dog came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, and not ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.
Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull. So she lay there and presently went to talking. 'Old woman,' she said to herself, 'that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.'
Because of her age, senility, dementia, or strokes are possible reasons for her forgetfulness and her talking to herself. When she drifts off or does not remember what she is doing, it is obvious that Phoenix’s body may outlive her mind.
Phoenix also suffers from a problem that often plagues people at an old age, senility. For instance, she has hallucinations. "But she sat down to rest... She did not dare to close her eyes and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble cake on it she spoke to him. 'That would be acceptable,' she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air" (p. 99). This was just one time in the story where Phoenix talks to herself or has hallucinations. Welty leaves us with the impression that Phoenix often behaves this way. Although she may suffer from senility due to old age, Phoenix does not allow these hallucinations to stop her from getting to town to get medicine for her grandson. This proves how much she loves him.
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