What biographical information does the author provide to flesh the portrait of Phoenix in "A Worn Path"?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty is a poignant story about a journey of an old woman, Phoenix Jackson, to obtain medicine for her grandson. The biographical details that the author provides concerning Phoenix make the character take on almost heroic proportions and the walk into town an almost epic sense, as the woman overcomes many obstacles to complete her chore.

The first biographical detail we learn is that the woman is frail and elderly, although she does not know her precise age. Her frailty is both physical and mental. First, her eyes are weak, and she struggles to see and identify objects; the description of "eyes blue with age" suggests cataracts. Next, she walks with a cane and has difficulty stooping down to tie her shoes or getting up after falling. She needs to walk very carefully, as her balance is poor. On a mental level, she has some difficulties with both memory and concentration.

The next major element of her biography is her poverty. She wears inexpensive homemade clothing, and regards a nickel as a major amount of money; the ten cents to buy her frail grandson a paper windmill for Christmas is a huge sum for her. This suggests that her family is probably subsistence farmers, for whom actual cash is very rare. We also learn from her encounter with the nurse that her grandson was injured several years ago and that his condition is chronic. Phoenix thus makes the trip into town regularly when he has a flare up of his condition to obtain medicine for him. She gets the medicine for free as a "charity case."