In "A Worn Path," at what obstacle does Phoenix display her tremendous skills and balance?  

In “A Worn Path,” it is at the log over the creek where Phoenix Jackson displays her tremendous skill, balance, and fortitude. Despite her frailty and her blindness, Phoenix closes her eyes, lifts her skirt, and marches determinedly to safety on the other side.

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It may not seem like much, but for a frail old lady like Phoenix, walking across a log to get to the other side of a creek is a big deal indeed. Arguably, this is the most significant object that she has to face on her way to the clinic to pick up her grandson's medication.

Due to her frailty and advanced years, it would be very easy for Phoenix to slip off the log and fall into the creek. With no one around to help, she'd surely drown in such circumstances. So Phoenix is taking a big chance with her physical safety when she waddles across the log, using her walking stick to provide some much-needed balance.

Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that Phoenix should feel such an overwhelming sense of triumph when she finally reaches the other side of the creek. This clearly indicates just how much of an obstacle the log presented and how much of a relief it is that Phoenix has managed to overcome it. That Phoenix should respond by telling herself that she's not as old as she thought also indicates that she was all too aware of the dangers presented by this potentially deadly obstacle for someone of her advanced years.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 1, 2020
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During her journey to town, Phoenix Jackson faces having to cross a creek by walking on a log. This is a tremendous challenge for an old woman who does not see well and does not have good balance. Nevertheless, Phoenix does not shy away from the task. By using her cane to help her keep her balance and by closing her eyes, she is able to get across the creek unscathed. As she reaches the other side, she states:

I wasn't as old as I thought.

Her renewed sense of youth is an idea that is also expressed in her name. A phoenix was a legendary bird that was said in Greek mythology to burst into flames when it got old and is reborn from the ashes. The challenge of walking across the log helps rejuvenate Phoenix.

Phoenix's whole journey on the wooded path is cast as similar to an epic journey taken by a Greek hero. What would be ordinary obstacles to a younger person, such as crossing water on a log or untangling her clothes from thorns, become major challenges to her. Rather than ridiculing her or treating her as a pathetic old woman, Welty's narrator depicts Phoenix as a heroic, capable, and dignified person who is able to achieve all of her goals.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 1, 2020
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Phoenix Jackson is an elderly woman, and she is also quite blind, meaning that almost the entirety of her journey to the city of Natchez is dangerous. She could trip and fall and hurt herself. She could get lost. She could be attacked by violent white people. There are many possibilities of danger and a great number of obstacles in her way as she heads to the city to fetch the “soothing medicine” for her little grandson’s lye-burned throat. Luckily, the path is “worn,” as suggested by the title, because she has traveled it so many times. She knows the way and the dangers.

When Phoenix arrives at the log laid across the creek, she references this particular moment as “the trial,” indicating that it is the most dangerous obstacle with which she must contend.

Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across.

In this particular moment, crossing the log over the creek, the old, blind woman—who has her eyes shut—marches purposefully ahead. Absolutely, this moment shows Phoenix’s tremendous skill (and determination) and balance. She could fall into the water and be swept away, or, at the very least, become wet through and potentially injured by the fall, and yet she relies on her feet to know what to do. And they do.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 11, 2020
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The story opens on a chilly morning in December. Phoenix Jackson is an elderly African American woman who is making a trip to town on foot. 

She has to travel through the woods and then uphill. She struggles but maintains her balance. She is tapping an umbrella to keep herself steady. Her shoes are untied. She is an amazing elderly woman. She is able to make the long trip into town to get some medicine for her grandson who swallowed lye. 

While she taps along the way, she manages to cross a log in a stream. She definitely needs skill and balance as she crosses the log. There are many twists and turns in the road. 

She happens to confront a hunter and his dog. The dog causes her to lose her balance and she falls in the ditch. The hunter helps her get out of the ditch. 

Phoenix is one determined woman. As the path goes up a hill, she complains about how difficult it has become while walking. No doubt, she has traveled this journey many times before. 

After crossing the log, she takes time to rest. She imagines things along the way. Phoenix is an incredible woman. She manages to make it all the way into town:

Phoenix lives fairly far from Natchez, which means that the journey— compounded by the fact that it is December—is difficult for her. In the rural area, she encounters animals, thorny bushes, ditches, streams to be crossed by logs, barbed-wire fences, and even people.

Once she gets in town, she asks a woman to tie her shoes. She visits the doctor's office to get the medicine for her sick grandson. Then she begins her journey home. 

The obstacles Phoenix overcomes shows how willing she is to help her grandson. She cares deeply for her grandson as she makes the long trip back home. 

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