Analyze the point of view with the two occasions where Eudora Welty uses third person omniscient."A Worn Path"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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"A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty, is a colorful story of a "woman of color," with imagery that appeals to the senses and "paints" the warm picture of a strong-willed elderly woman with the interesting name of "Phoenix." This wonderful story conveys the long journey of Phoenix, and things that deter her, and not only her success in reaching town, but the reader's realization (like Phoenix's own, in the doctor's office) of what she can do out of love for her grandson—especially with the two nickels she has come to get during the trip.

The use of sensory details is hard to miss: the coppery smell of Phoenix's hair, the "eyes blue with age," the "red rag" on her head, "Her skin...[with] a golden color [that] ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks...[with] yellow burning under the dark," and her black hair. The colors are especially significant in light of the name, "Phoenix," which is the mythical bird that would burn up every five hundred years, and be reborn from the ashes. Several of the colors support the image of "fire and life:" the "yellow burning," "golden color," "the red rag," and "an odor like copper." Phoenix is a woman with a "slow-burning" fire within, and an appreciation of life that has shown her so much—old even when the Civil War ended, saying she is uneducated, but showing her wisdom through her trek into the city:

I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender...I am a woman without an education.

All of these descriptions are delivered from the point of view of third person, which strongly portrays the character of Phoenix. Third person omniscient, however, goes beyond providing what we see of Phoenix and what she says, but reveals things that observation alone will not provide to the reader.

One example of the use of third person omniscient is seen when Phoenix has crossed the log that runs over the stream, and the old woman sits down to rest. Only third person omniscient point of view would be able to describe that she is imagining the boy with the cake, for it is in her mind and she does not describe him aloud.

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.

A second example of third person omniscient is a rather short one. As Phoenix goes into the doctor's office, she sees the doctor's degree, framed in a gold frame, but the notation that it matches her "dream" has to come from an omniscient observation—the only way the reader would be able to see into Phoenix's mind:

She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.

The use of third person omniscient is included only in the vaguest way so that it does not seem at all unnatural. "The Worn Path" is a beautiful story told with wonderful imagery of a strong woman who is determined to succeed, blessed with a grandson that she loves, whose needs drive her forward.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Told from a limited third person point of view throughout most of the narrative, Eudora Welty's story of a weathered character's struggles against the forces of nature as she takes the usual path to the clinic for her beloved grandson, allows the reader to perceive Phoenix Jackson objectively.  For instance, through the use of Phoenix's monologue the reader learns of her "voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves."  Her placid acceptance of the forces of nature is also conveyed in her words when her skirts become caught,

"I in the thorny bush....Thorns, you doing your appointed work.  Never want to let folks pass, no sir.  Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush."

In this third person narrative, however, there are injections of the omniscient.  One such use is illustrated in the author's writing that when Phoenix sat down to rest, she sat under mistletoe.

She did not dare to close her eye, 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.

Of course, Phoenix is dreaming and the reader goes inside the woman's mind through the use of the omniscient point of view. In a similar situation in which the reader again becomes privy to the inner conflict and thoughts of Phoenix, she nears the city, but

Old Phoenix would have been lost if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her.

These two incidences of omniscient narrator serve to allow the reader to commiserate with Phoenix Jackson in her long journey, and to sympathize with the old, worn out woman who lovingly perseveres on "the worn path."