When she makes her difficult and dangerous trip to town to get the "soothing" medicine for her grandson, Phoenix Jackson must overcome numerous obstacles and forces that oppose her. The physical barriers she must overcome include the stream she must cross, the barbed-wire fence she must climb through, the briers she must escape, the maze of a dead corn field she must maneuver, and the scarecrow she must pass, at first thinking it to be a ghost. Each of these represents an impediment in her path that must be conquered in order for her to complete her journey.
Phoenix, however, must overcome abstract forces, as well as physical barriers. She must fight against her age and frailty. She is very old and nearly blind. Her spirit is strong, but her body is no longer strong and responsive. When she is surprised by the hunter's dog, she defends herself with her cane, hitting him "a little" before losing her balance:
Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.
It is with the hunter's help that Phoenix is set upright. Phoenix also struggles against her failing mind, as her "senses drifted away" from time to time, making it difficult for her to distinguish reality from memory and illusion.
Phoenix must also overcome her own natural fears. In making her way through the woods, she knows she is not alone, and she knows that at least some of the animals in the thicket around her present danger, including "big wild hogs" and snakes.
The final force Phoenix must overcome is the disrespect and humiliation she encounters in the receptionist, once she arrives in the doctor's office. Her comments and manner suggesting her arrogance and racism, the attendant sits at a desk and interrogates Phoenix rudely as the tired old woman stands before her. In her determination and dignity, however, Phoenix stands firm, responding to the woman's ill treatment only by giving "a twitch her face as if a fly were bothering her." For Phoenix, this hateful woman is only one more obstacle she will overcome to complete her mission.