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In Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path," Phoenix Jackson is a round character. A "round" character is defined as one who is...
...complex in temperament and motivation; drawn with subtlety; capable of growth and change during the course of the narrative
Phoenix Jackson is an elderly black woman who at first sight might seem feeble and insignificant. It is in this mistaken perception that one can see Welty's creation of a "complex temperament." Phoenix is a determined woman, and not easily put off.
Welty develops the character in several ways. Welty uses direct characterization, which comes from what the author says about Phoenix. She also uses indirect characterization; this comes from the character's speech, thoughts, actions, appearance and how the character interacts with other characters.
Welty first introduces Phoenix (using direct characterization) in terms of how she looks. She sways when she walks, is "old and small," has a red rag tied onto her head, walks with a cane, and wears a long dress with an apron. She is "neat and tidy" with wrinkled skin. Her eyes are light with age, and as the story progresses, we realize she does not see well at all. The reader might well get the impression that Phoenix is not much of a concern.
Phoenix's speech also gives the reader a sense of the kind of woman she is, as she talks to things along her journey, to animals and plants alike. (This is just one example of indirect characterization.)
Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals! Keep out from under these feet...little bob-whites...Keep the big wild hogs out of my path...I got a long way.
The reader may again believe that Phoenix is weak and frail: she talks to animals! But as she continues to speak, it is easy to tell that she knows the land she is walking as if by second nature. However, we also discover that she has a sense of humor. She prepares to cross a creek and his somewhat worried about it. Her successful crossing is entertaining:
Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.
"I wasn't as old as I thought," she said.
She meets up with a young hunter who also doesn't take Phoenix too seriously, telling her it is too far for her to walk to get to town. When he drops a nickel without noticing, Phoenix uses his dogs to distract him so that she can pick up the coin.
Perhaps the most startling indirect characterization that Welty uses is when the white hunter points his gun at her. He wants to know if the gun scares her. However, she is not fazed by his implied threat, and he backs off.
Through these methods, Welty introduces a character of depth. She is...
...complex in temperament and motivation
As the story continues and Phoenix makes seemingly impossible things take place (like getting to town and ending up with enough money to go shopping), it seems there is more to her character than we might first have believed. By the end of the story, she has one more stop to make: to buy a toy for her son. Having started from the house without a penny, by the time she is really to leave, she has enough money to shop.
Welty is masterful in conveying a great deal about Phoenix, most especially her personality, done with the varying techniques of characterization.
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