How do I start my essay on the topic of life's journeys with comparing and contrasting "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty, "Araby" by James Joyce, and "Stopping into the Woods" by Frost?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea of life's journey is intrinsic to each of the three works.  This would be where the point of comparison in each lies.  Each work speaks to the need to view life as a journey as integral to consciousness. This defining aspect of identity is seen in how the physical journey takes form in each work. For example, Welty's Phoenix Jackson must undertake the challenging and arduous journey.  Her life's mission and purpose resides in this journey.  It is difficult and fundamentally challenging, and yet, the journey is where life's definition for Phoenix lie.  This same element of challenge can be seen in Frost's journey.  In Frost's poem, the protagonist must make continue the journey to which the protagonist made a commitment to fulfilling.  There is a fundamental sense of challenge within such a reality.  The fact that the protagonist is tired, but feels compelled to continue because he has "miles to go before he goes to sleep" is reflective of how the journey defines the individual's place in the world.  This same notion of the journey's importance within the life of the individual can be seen in Joyce's "Araby."  The narrator's journey is what gives him meaning, for without it life is seen as "ugly, monotonous child's play:"

I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.

The narrator finds a sense of transcendence within the journey.  Like Frost's protagonist and Welty's Phoenix Jackson, the journey is what defines life and the purpose within human consciousness.  The journey is what embodies the challenges within life.  It is in this light where I think that each work speaks in a powerful way as to the importance of life's journey in providing meaning to human existence.

A significant difference exists in each as to how this journey ends up shaping the individual's consciousness.  Welty constructs the journey as one that does not wither Phoenix's sense of being in the world.  No matter the challenges that she faces, her resolve will not be broken.  The world might bump her off her path, but they will not deny her what she knows is her purpose in the world:  "He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”  The journey is a chance for Phoenix to prove her mettle and demonstrate the internal fortitude that is such a part of her character.  For Joyce's narrator, there is nothing but bitterness at the end of his journey.  There is a loss of innocence in how the narrator recognizes that what was once envisioned in his mind is not what reality features.  This leaves the narrator with eyes "burned with anguish and anger."  The journey has transformed the narrator into one who has lost a sense of his faith and belief in what initially motivated him to undertake his journey.  At the same time, Frost's construction of the journey magically leaves the reader in a type of limbo where there is no definitive sense of judgment.  The refrain of "miles to go before I sleep" is one where the reader is left to interpret if this is a statement of affirmation or one of negation. Frost suggests that the journey is a part of one's being in the world, but does not voice a specific opinion as to what effect that has on the individual.  It is in this regard where I think that a specific point of contrast can be made in terms of how each of the works view the journey that each sees as intrinsic to human consciousness.

In terms of starting the paper, I think that an interesting opening might be to stress how each work suggests the importance of the journey in defining identity. Human beings are the products of their journeys, elements of being that cannot be avoided.  However, the start of the paper, like all journeys themselves, should acknowledge that while each share a common starting or jump off point, where each winds up is fundamentally different from one another.  Being able to open the paper in this regard creates an intellectual journey for the reader, initiating the process of reflection and thought.