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A quest is an adventurous journey in search of something. The trek is usually long and often dangerous.
Eudora Welty’s Phoenix Jackson walks “A Worn Path” in her symbolic quest to get the medicine that her grandson needs to survive. The trail takes Phoenix from her cabin in Natchez Trace to the town of Natchez, Mississippi.
Phoenix, an elderly black woman, is an uneducated woman with an indomitable spirit. Her only living family member is her grandson who three years ago drank lye and burned his throat so severely that he has trouble breathing. The medicine that he needs saves his life.
Her trip is hazardous certainly to an old lady with impaired vision. Phoenix’s health has deteriorated so that she loses her focus and often cannot remember what she is doing. On the other hand, her wit and humor provide the reader with an unforgettable experience as Phoenix goes along through the treacherous path.
Phoenix carries an umbrella to use as a cane and shoo away any of the creatures that might get in her way.
“Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!...Keep out from under these feet, little bobwhites…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.”
On this trip, it is December cool, crisp air. Phoenix is dressed with many layers of homemade feedsack clothes. Her shoes are untied because she cannot see to tie them.
The path goes through the woods and into a hollow. After this, it winds up a hill and through more woods. In the fields, Phoenix has to battle the thorns. The worst part is crossing a log that goes over a creek. She raises her skirt, puts the cane in front of her, and moves one foot at a time. After she crosses, Phoenix has to sit down and rest.
Her next hazard involves crawling like a baby under a barbed wire fence. As she travels, Phoenix talks constantly to God asking him to help her through different dangerous aspects of the path. To quench her thirst, Phoenix bends over and drink from a spring. When she crosses a swampy part, the old lady comments: “Sleep on alligators and blow your bubbles.”
Finally, she arrives at the road. Across her path comes a dog which scares her, and she falls into a ditch. She drifts off until a hunter finds her and helps her out. His treatment was typical for a white man talking to a black woman. He calls her “Granny,” insultingly talking to her in a childish way. Phoenix takes a nickel that he drops and feels no guilt.
After arriving at the doctor’s office, Phoenix’s fatigue affects her memory. She sits and stares unresponsively. The nurse forces her back to the present and gives her the medicine. The receptionist gives her another nickel which thrills Phoenix.
This dime will enable her to buy a Christmas gift for her grandson. The reader cannot help but feel good about Phoenix completing this part of the journey. However, the elderly woman’s quest will only be finished when she arrives back at her cabin where hugs and smiles are awaiting her return.
On her quest, Phoenix overcomes many treacherous hazards to ultimately fulfill the purpose of her journey. By completing this seemingly insurmountable feat, Phoenix can be considered a hero and her journey down the worn path a quest.
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