What is a critique of the story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoenix Jackson cares about one thing---she must help her grandson.  She has to walk from her home a long distance to Natchez to get the medicine that he has to have to survive.  “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty takes the reader along on the slow trek toward Phoenix’s goal. 

The narration is third person point of view with a limited omniscient narrator.  The setting is the south in the 1940s. It is a cold December day.  Phoenix has to  travel an arduous rural path through difficult terrain.  The main character will achieve her goal no matter what happens. 

The character of Phoenix Jackson is unforgettable. Physically, she is small but spry for her  old age.  Phoenix carries an umbrella as her cane to help in her movements through the weeds and bushes.  Her dress is long and covered with an apron made of sugar sacks. Her shoes are untied because she can no longer see to tie them. 

Phoenix’s condition is deteriorating with age.  She does not see as well as she once did.  Talking to herself as she walks keeps her mind active and provides her company as she walks.

Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!... Keep the big wild hogs out of my path.  Don’t let none of those come running my direction.  I got a long way.

Her path is worn because of the many times that she has traveled to get the  medicine.  She travels through woods, up and down hills, and across a creek on a log.  Her dress is caught by the thorn bushes. 

Occasionally, Phoenix will rest.  Sometimes she hallucinates but then returns to reality.  She gets down on her knees to go through a barbed wire fence.  She asks the buzzard who does he think he is  watching.  Encountering a scarecrow, she believes at first that it is a ghost. 

As the elderly lady stoops to take a drink, a dog comes up and scares her.  She then falls into a ditch and cannot get out. A hunter finds Phoenix and helps her.  He tells her to go home because she is too old to be walking like this. He drops a nickel which Phoenix retrieves without the white man knowing it.

Finally, she arrives in town.  At the doctor’s office, Phoenix cannot remember why she is there.  A nurse tells her to hurry up because she is wasting their time.  Her memory is jogged, and she asks for the medicine for her grandson.  The nurse gets it for her.  While Phoenix waits, the receptionist gives her another nickel. 

When she leaves the office, Phoenix is happy.  Not only will she take her grandson his medicine, but she will go to the store, use the dime, and buy him a Christmas gift.  She still has the long journey ahead; however, it will be worth the hardship when she receives the hug and smile from her beloved.

The name Phoenix, which symbolizes rebirth and determination, comes from an Egyptian myth about a bird, described as large, scarlet and gold. The phoenix has been credited with amazing powers: the ability to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye and to heal itself. It makes a nest and catches fire from the sun, bursting into flame. From the ashes, it is reborn, leaving its nest until the next time it returns.

Phoenix Jackson is like the beautiful, mythological bird.  She survives and returns each time as though she has healed herself.  When she has to make the strenuous trip, it is as though she rises again to reach her goal. 

Further Reading:
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A Worn Path

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