Analyze Phoenix's language in "A Worn Path." What is conveyed through her speech?

Expert Answers info

Laurine Herzog eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2019

write1,195 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

The first time we hear Phoenix speak, she says:

Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!...Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites...Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don't let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way.

All of these sentences, except for the final one, are imperative sentences. In other words, each is phrased as a command. She tells the animals to get “Out of (her) way” and to “Keep out from under (her) feet.” This repetition of imperative sentences suggests that Phoenix is a rather bad-tempered old lady or that she is simply in a hurry to get somewhere.

A little later in the story, as she is walking up a hill, Phoenix says, “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” and then, “Something always take a hold of me on this hill - pleads I should stay.” Phoenix’s speech is grammatically unconventional. For example, she uses the singular form of the verb, “take” with the singular form of the noun “Something.” She should, to be grammatically correct (or conventional), use the plural form of the verb with the singular form of the noun. Such grammatically unconventional constructions suggest that Phoenix is perhaps a lower-class woman.

In the quotations above, Phoenix also uses vague, speculative language like “Something” and “Seem like.” This vague, speculative language implies that Phoenix is uncertain or confused as to what it is that seems to hold her back. She seems to suspect that there is some invisible, mysterious force at work. She also uses a simile to compare this mysterious force to “chains about [her] feet,” implying that it is a hostile force. This perhaps indicates that Phoenix is not only uncertain or confused, but also perhaps a little afraid.

Phoenix also has a playful side to her personality, however, and this too comes out in her speech. For example, when somebody asks her later in the story, “How old are you, Granny?” she replies with, “There’s no telling, mister…no telling.” When the same person asks her what she is doing lying in a ditch, Phoenix replies, “Lying on my back like a June bug waiting to be turned over, mister.”

check Approved by eNotes Editorial