Discuss the characterization of Phoenix in the story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the protagonist of "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty, Phoenix Jackson is much like the other minor characters of the story, a stock character.  But, she represents the enduring spirit of the oppressed, as her name indicates.  When, for instance, she sees a buzzard, she calls out to it, "Who you watching?"  Perceiving something coming towards her later on, Phoenix calls it a ghost, but realizes it is a mere scarecrow. "I too old.  I ought to be shut up for good," she laughs at herself as she continues the path to the clinic.

When the white hunter with his dogs happens upon her, he lightly ridicules her asking why she is in a ditch.  Phoenix jokes herself, saying she is lying on her back like a June bug.  Further, she tells the hunter who suggests that her destination is too far that it is time for her to go:

"I bound to go to town, mister....The time come around"

Then, when the hunter points his rifle at her, and Phoenix does not move, "Doesn't the gun scare you," the hunter asks. But, Phoenix quietly replies that she has seen such before:

"No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what  I done."

Phoenix does not waiver from her purpose.  As she arrives, exhausted, at the clinic, Phoenix announces almost with ceremony, "Here I be."  But, she is treated with disrespect, as an attendant asks if she is a charity case.  A nurse approaches, speaking of her, using the deprecatory "Aunt" for an older black woman:

"Oh, that just old Aunt Phoenix...She does't come for herself--she has a little grandson.  She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork.  She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace."

All the while, Phoenix merely waits and stares straight ahead with a solemn face that is rigid and withdrawn. Finally, she explains why she has come, to remeber hergrandson and remember him "from all others":

"We is the only two left in the world. I am not going to forget him....I remembers so plain now.  I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time.  I could tell him from all the others in creation."

Rising from the ashes of her exhaustion, Phoenix Jackson takes the medicine for her grandson, along with the few pennies that the attendant gives her, and sets out for the store to buy her child a little windmill. "I'll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in his hand."  Driven by love, Phoenix sets out anew upon the worn path, a character who represents the power of love and the power of determination. She seems immortal like her namesake.

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A Worn Path

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