Welty's story, published in 1941, is set in the late 1930s or early 1940s. It takes place in Natchez, Mississippi, a real place, and focuses on the journey of an elderly Black woman from her rural home into town to get medicine for her grandson.
Much would change if the story's setting were moved to contemporary America. An urban or suburban, rather than a rural, setting would be more likely for the story, reflecting the loss of rural population since 1940. In the 1940s, for example, the rural population in Louisiana was seventy-three percent, whereas by 2000, that figure had dropped to thirty-one percent.
It is likely, too, that even a poor woman would have a phone in 2021 and so would be able to call for help if her grandson drank lye, though the lye drinking would also have to change. Lye is almost never used for washing clothes today and would not likely be in the modern household to present a hazard. Further, a poor child would qualify for Medicaid in 2021, so paying for medication would not be an issue.
However, while all of these factors about setting and circumstance might have to be changed, the fundamental struggles of the poor represented by Phoenix have not changed. The conflict—the struggle of the poor to obtain basic necessities in the face of a hostile reality—is the same then as now. Phoenix's struggle would not be the walk to town, but it would be navigating a cold, impersonal bureaucracy that might make her and her grandson wait for hours or even days for help. She might as well be faced with losing custody of her grandson for neglect because he drank a poison. A modern woman in Phoenix's position would still have to have the same courage and grit as Phoenix on the journey to get help for her grandson.