“The Worn Path” by Eudora Welty presents an unforgettable character, Phoenix Jackson. This is an elderly woman who demands admiration and respect. Her task is formidable but she is driven to complete it as she has many times before. The reader will go along with Phoenix as she travels on her mission to help her grandson.
The worn path is the trail that Phoenix must travel to accomplish her goal. It is a road full of obstacles, but Phoenix will stand up for herself and complete her journey. Phoenix’s name connects her to the mythological bird, the Phoenix.
The legendary Phoenix is a large scarlet and gold bird which matures to an old age, then bursts into flames and is reborn from the ashes. Phoenix Jackson’s appearance likens her to the mythological bird.
The description by the author uses the color of gold running underneath her skin. Her cheeks were illuminated by a yellow burning under the dark skin. Her head is covered by a red rag. Compare the bird’s description as having beautiful red and gold plumage. Phoenix, said to be a good and wonderful bird, possesses nobility and powers of endurance. Phoenix Jackson shares these same qualities.
As she walks along her path, Phoenix carries an umbrella as a cane. She uses it to ward off any creatures that might come in her way. She has to cross a log over a creek, go up and down hills, throw thorn bushes, and Phoenix's appearance is yet another aspect of her likeness to the phoenix.
Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals. Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running in my direction. I got a long way.
The reader begins to wonder if senility has taken over Phoenix. At times, she appears lucid and at other times, her mind wanders. Her eyesight does fool her at times. For example, she thinks the scarecrow she passes is a ghost.
At times, Phoenix has to rest. Her legs and age get the best of her.
Seems like there is chains about my feet time I get this far. Something always take a hold of me on this hill—pleads I should stay.
She comes to a wild dog on her path and to avoid him falls in a ditch. A hunter comes along and pulls her out. Although his behavior toward her is accommodating, his attitude toward her bespeaks the racist attitudes that Phoenix has faced all of her life. He calls her “Granny,” tells her to go home, and then accuses her of going to town to see Santa Claus.
Phoenix gets the best of the hunter. She sees a nickel fall out of his pocket. She sends him chasing the dog and picks up the nickel. The hunter again tells her to go home.
When she arrives in Natchez, Phoenix finds the doctor’s office. Her mind fails her, and she cannot remember why she is there. Finally, one of the nurses, who remembers her, tells her to hurry up because she is wasting their time. Phoenix receives the medicine, gets another nickel, and hurries off to buy her grandson a Christmas present with the dime that she has collected.
Phoenix Jackson rises like the Greek Phoenix as one of the most determined and wonderful characters in literature. Her selflessness and inner beauty symbolize a woman who will not be stopped in helping her grandson. He will get his medicine and his Christmas present. Sadly, the reader knows that Phoenix faces the long journey home on the “worn path.” She does not mind because at the end of the trek are smiles and hugs.