Describe two ways that Eudora Welty develops the character of Phoenix in "A Worn Path" using examples from the story.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoenix Jackson is the protagonist of "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty, and the author develops the woman's character by description and action.

Phoenix Jackson is an old woman, which is clear from the first lines of the story:

Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her.

These few lines give us a lot of information about Phoenix. She lives far from the city, probably in some isolation; she is a very old Negro; she is a small woman with a red rag tied on her head; though she is old and a bit unsteady (she uses a cane and walks very slowly), she is walking slowly but deliberately through the woods on this cold day. She has lived a long time in rather difficult circumstances, but she is still a bit whimsical (wearing a red rag, after all). All of this reveals her as a woman of strong character and fortitude.

The journey she makes demonstrates her resilience and her humor, perhaps the reason she is able to remain strong. She is on a mission, but the journey is rather comical. Phoenix talks herself as well as to the animals. When she has to cross a creek by walking across a log, she is not deterred. 

Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.

She gets tangled in the thorns of a bush and is toppled into a ditch by a dog. Here the old woman waits in what, for most of us, would be the pinnacle of indignity; however, Phoenix has learned, over the course of her long life, to be resilient and patient. So she just waits for someone to rescue her. 

In town she is an object of derision and ridicule, but she is undeterred; her mission is to get some medicine for her grandson and will not leave until she gets it. She displays humility by asking a stranger to help tie her shoe but is subject to humiliation when others make fun of her and assume she is a beggar.

This is a journey Phoenix makes often, a sacrifice she is willing to endure for another, highlighting the sacrificial nature of this old and rather humorous (and perhaps senile) old woman. 

Eudora Welty develops the character of Phoenix Jackson through description and action. 

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A Worn Path

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