What details in "A Worn Path" relate to Phoenix's character?"A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The determination of Phoenix Jackson in "A Worn Path" is evident from the very first two sentences:

It was December--a bright frozen day in the early monring. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods.

She carries a thin, small cane made from an unbrella which she uses to tap the frozen earth before her. With eyes "blue from age" she walks straight ahead indicating diminished eyesight.  As she traverses the forest, Phoenix talks to the animals, warning them in a hopeful way to stay out from under her so she will not trip.

In her lifting of her skirt and placing her cane "fiercely" before her, Phoenix is like "a festival figure in some parade" as she marches across a log that bridges a creek.  When she sees a buzzard, she is reminded of her age:  "Who you watching?" she asks it with dignity.

When she falls over after a dog charges her, Phoenix is yet undaunted as a laughing hunter asks what she is doing:

'Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be turned over, mister,' she said reaching up her hand.

After chasing off the dog, the white man returns and points the gun at Phoenix, but she is not afraid, and holds "utterly still."  Nor does she say anything about the nickel she has retrieved after it fell from the man's pocket.  Only to herself has she said, "I come to stealing."

Decorously, when Phoenix reaches town, she asks someone to tie her shoelaces before she enters the big building.  Once she is inside, the nurse inquires about her grandson, Aunt Phoenix displays a quiet dignity and does not respond. Finally, she begs what is likened to "a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night":

'...My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming....We is the only two left in the world.  He suffer and it don't seem to put him back at all....I remembers so plain now, I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time.  I could tell him from all the others in creation.'

Named for the mythological bird, Phoenix rises from her poverty and misfortune to perform her enduring act of love for her grandson.  She is perseverance and dignity and wisdom personified as she travels her worn path.

 

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Phoenix is clearly quite old and quite poor.  We can see her age from the fact that she cannot walk all that well.  We can see her poverty from the fact that she is only being given medicine on charity.

As far as her character goes, though, I would say that she is very brave.  You can see this first of all in the fact that she is willing, frail as she is, to walk into town to get the medicine.  We also see it in the fact that she can stand up to the white hunter and not be afraid of what he might do to her.

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epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The details about the sugar sacks and the rag establish Phoenix’s poverty. Among other details that one might notice are the untied tennis shoes and her charity-case status as revealed in the medical offce. It is clear that her journey is along a worn path, and well worn at that, because she addresses the animals as acquaintances, closes her eyes when she balances on the log, and follows her feet rather than her mind to get to the medical offce in Natchez. She seems accustomed to being alone because she is constantly speaking to herself. Her speech to animals and particularly her visualizing the boy (paragraph 15) suggest some of the debilitating effects of age. The nature of her speech (such as "I going to the store") indicates her lack of formal education.

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