How does the story prove the unconscious heroism of Phoenix Jackson?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoenix is described as being "very old and small and she walked slowly." Everything about this description suggests a very weak person. However, she manages to overcome any obstacle that comes her way. She is meek but resourceful. She manages to steal a nickel from the hunter. She seems weak but she is courageous. She stares down the barrel of the hunter's gun showing that she is unafraid. When she is presented with a problem, she finds a solution. The thorn catches her dress and she is able to free herself. She falls down and, somehow, she doesn't break any bones. She needs her shoe tied and is able to get help from a woman in town. In the end, she retrieves the medicine. In summary, she succeeds time and again. In terms of making this journey, she has proven to be unstoppable, even though she is a frail, old woman.

A journey is a classic narrative structure for a hero. Notable heroes that employ this literary element are Odysseus in The Odyssey, Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, and Aeneas in The Aeneid. Phoenix makes a journey as well and that journey forms "a worn path." The gesture (the fact that she is seeking medication for her grandson) is generous and heroic as well. So, her perseverance is heroic but the meaning behind her efforts (caring for her grandson) is admirable as well. 

Phoenix also never claims to be heroic. The only compliment she gives herself is "I wasn't as old as I thought." She doesn't consider herself to be a hero. She simply does what needs to be done. Therefore, she is not conscious of the notion that her efforts are heroic. This humility actually makes her seem even more heroic.