“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty delivers an unforgettable character in Phoenix Jackson who does not know when she was born. From this story and many others, critics have established Welty as one of the leading women writers in American literature.
What literary devices does the author use in the story?
The main character is Phoenix. Her name is the same as a mythical bird that rises in the air and bursts into flames. The bird is consumed by the fire. When it is burned, a new phoenix springs forth from the ashes.
Phoenix Jackson epitomizes the phoenix. She is much too old to walk the difficult path to get to Natchez for the medicine that her grandson needs. Her age does not matter; the only things that she knows is that he must have his medicine or die.
“…she walked slowly…moving a little side to side with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock.
The details that the author delivers make the character and story come to life. Phoenix ambles in the cold, December morning on the path that she has walked so many times for her grandson. Since she is old, her footing is unsure and she wavers from side to side as she walks.
“On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped a light as feathers.”
Throughout the story, the author masterfully inserts mental pictures to help the reader visualize the difficult, yet necessary journey of Phoenix. From the beauty of Phoenix Jackson’s face to the clever insertion of the chatter to herself---the story pops off the page and into the heart of the reader.
Phoenix has to go through a barb-wired fence.
“There she had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps.”
The author’s comparison of Phoenix to a baby shows how the old lady would do anything to get to Natchez. The visual image of her scuttling under the fence sounds humorous, but the reality is that this is almost too hard for an old woman.
“She smelled wood-smoke, and smelled the river, and she saw a steeple and the cabins on their steep steps.”
The use and repetition of the “s” sound give a windy, smoky feeling as Phoenix hurries toward her goal. Her descriptive sentences are poetic in the combination of sounds and vocabulary choice. The smells and sights of the town give Phoenix a renewed energy to get to the doctor’s office and then make the journey back to the grandson.
The technique of the humorous banter given by Phoenix to herself as she walks along helps the reader to imagine her as she pushes forward despite the difficult trek. From the humor springs the poignant moment when Phoenix realizes that she has enough money to buy her grandson a Christmas present. This is delicious writing.