“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty offers an interesting and admirable character in the protagonist Phoenix Jackson. Phoenix’s name comes from Greek mythology. The phoenix had an incredible life cycle. It made its nest and caught fire from the sun, bursting into flames. From the ashes, it is reborn. From her name to her behavior and the symbolism running throughout the story, Phoenix Jackson is the embodiment of the mythological phoenix.
The protagonist Phoenix is described as an old, extremely poor, black lady, who has difficulty walking and uses a cane made from an umbrella to stabilize herself. As she walks along toward town, the old lady talks aloud to herself. She slowly walks along a difficult path that she has walked many times.
Phoenix is on her way to get medicine. Her grandson drank lye as a small child and injured his throat. She sometimes appears delusional and talks to the animals as if they could understand her, telling them to stay out of her way.
Phoenix lays down on the ground to rest and a white hunter comes across her.
The track crossed a swampy part where the moss hung as white as lace from every limb. 'Sleep on, alligators, and blow your bubbles.' Then the cypress trees went into the road. Deep, deep it went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave.
A white man finally came along and found her—a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain.
'Well, Granny!' he laughed. 'What are you doing there?'
As the man talks to her, he accidently has a nickel come out of his pocket. He goes off to see about a dog. While he is gone, Phoenix picks up the coin. It is unclear whether the man knows that she has picked up the coin except that he points his gun at her and tells her that he did not have a dime, or he would give it to her.
When she arrives at the hospital, she does not immediately remember why she has come. Then the nurse asks her about her grandson. The old lady receives her medicine, and the nurse gives her a nickel. Phoenix is delighted because she can now buy her grandson a paper windmill for his Christmas present.
The story is full of figurative language and delightful comparisons. Rich in mythological allusions, the reader is drawn into the journey of Phoenix as she struggles to town. When the reader realizes that Phoenix has to walk all the way home to her grandson, one can only admire this wonderful, selfless woman!