Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Phoenix Jackson makes her biannual visit to Natchez, walking for half a day in December to reach the medical clinic at which she receives, as charity, soothing medicine for her grandson. Having swallowed lye, he has suffered without healing for several years. Phoenix has made the journey enough times that her path to Natchez seems a worn path. Furthermore, part of that is the old Natchez trace, a road worn deep into the Mississippi landscape by centuries of travelers returning northeast after boating down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Phoenix is the oldest person she knows, though she does not know exactly how old she is, only that she was too old to go to school at the end of the Civil War and therefore never learned to read. Mainly because of her age, the simple walk from her remote home into Natchez is a difficult enough journey to take on epic proportions. She fears delays caused by wild animals getting in her way: foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, and raccoons. She comfortably reflects that snakes and alligators hibernate in December. Thorn bushes and barbed-wire fences, log bridges and hills are major barriers for her. The cornfield she must cross from her initial path to a wagon road is a maze, haunted to her nearsightedness by a ghost that turns out to be a scarecrow. She must also struggle against her tendency to slip into a dream and forget her task, as when she stops for a rest and dreams of a boy offering her a piece of cake. Her...
(The entire section is 700 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“A Worn Path” is a simple story about a difficult journey. The protagonist, Phoenix Jackson, is an elderly African American woman who lives in the country. On a cold December day, she is walking to town along the path that she always takes. Along the way, she encounters various obstacles: thorny bushes, a creek, a barbed-wire fence, a swamp. Then she waves her cane to drive away a dog, loses her balance, and falls. Fortunately, a white man happens along and helps her up. Without knowing it, he drops a nickel, and she pockets it, though she feels guilty about stealing.
After arriving in town, Phoenix gets a lady to lace up her shoe, explaining that she must be properly dressed to go into a big building. Once in the doctor’s office, she has to be reminded that she has come to get medicine for her grandson, who swallowed lye several years before. The receptionist offers her some pennies, and Phoenix hints that five of them would be a nickel. With her two nickels, Phoenix will buy her grandson a little paper windmill. The story ends with her making her way laboriously back down the stairs.
In “A Worn Path,” the author utilizes the conventions of the heroic journey to describe the adventures of a woman who is unaware of her own heroism. The simple style that Welty uses for her account of Phoenix Jackson’s odyssey makes the story even more effective and poignant.
(The entire section is 246 words.)
The story opens on a chilly December morning. An elderly African-American woman named Phoenix Jackson is making her way, slowly but surely, through the woods, tapping an umbrella on the ground in front of her as she walks. Her shoes are untied. While she taps along, she talks to the animals in the woods, telling them to keep out of her way. As the path goes up a hill, she complains about how difficult walking becomes. It becomes evident that she has made this journey many times before; she is familiar with all the twists and turns in the trail. She talks aimlessly to herself. Her eyesight is poor, and she catches her skirt in the thorns on a bush.
After walking across a log to traverse a stream, she rests. She imagines a boy bringing her a slice of cake but opens her eyes to find her hand in the air, grasping nothing. The terrain becomes more difficult, and at a certain point she thinks she sees a ghost, but it is only a scarecrow. Blaming the confusion on her age and the fact that her "senses is gone," she moves on. She meets a black dog with a "lolling tongue." She hits the dog lightly with her cane, and the effort knocks her off balance and she falls into a ditch.
The dog's owner, a white hunter, happens by and helps her out of the ditch. When he hears that she is attempting to make it into town, he says it is too far and tells her to go home. But Phoenix is determined, and the hunter laughs, saying "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't...
(The entire section is 527 words.)