Throughout Eudora Welty’s story, the elderly African American female protagonist, Phoenix Jackson, encounters physical obstacles that often coincide with social problems of the period. The title “A Worn Path” may be interpreted as meaning the constant efforts that African American people had made toward official recognition of equality in the United States.
Ms. Jackson’s walk into town to obtain medicine was only one type of journey that she and other African Americans were constantly making. The story was originally published in 1941 and seems to take place about this time, near the end of the Great Depression. The setting is apparently rural Mississippi, as Welty was born and raised and lived much of her adult life in Mississippi. She set much of her fiction there. During the Depression, Welty was associated with a New Deal initiative; her work as a photographer for the Works Project Administration took her into rural areas.
If the elderly Ms. Jackson was eighty years old in 1940, she would have been born in 1860, meaning she was probably an enslaved person in her childhood and grew up during Reconstruction. Harshly restrictive Jim Crow laws that curtailed African American people’s rights were put into place in the late nineteenth century, as individual states aimed to counteract federal mandates.