Discuss the character of Phoenix Jackson and the title of the story in "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoenix Jackson’s journey to Natchez takes the reader on an unforgettable mission to help her grandson.  Her travel is long and for a small, elderly lady quite an undertaking.  Yet, Phoenix is up to the task.  On “The Worn Path” by Eudora Welty, this wonderful lady will accomplish her mission to heal, just as the mythological Phoenix healed with its tears.

The story’s Phoenix Jackson and the bird are parallel in looks, qualities, and endurance.  The bird has been described as a red and gold bird that is able to heal. It can disappear and reappear, catch fire, burst into flames and be reborn from its ashes.  The bird’s determination is its greatest quality. Phoenix Jackson is the embodiment of the Phoenix from the myth.

This is not the first journey that Phoenix has made down this trail.  It is worn down by the times that she has gone to get the medicine for her grandson.  On this day, the path seems a little more daunting.  It is December, cold, and Phoenix walks slowly.

The path itself represents the journey that she must make as her grandson needs her. She will make her journey through the snow and rain, sleet and hail, braving bears and snakes and hunters and dogs because, like the phoenix would, she has chosen to protect and serve this young child.

She carries an umbrella as her cane.  As she walks, she swishes the grass and brush to keep the animals out of her path.  Her journey takes her up and down hills, through thorn bushes, over a creek on a log. Nothing stops her until a dog chases her into a ditch.

Her help comes from a passing hunter who pulls her out of the ditch and scolds her to return home.  From the encounter, she obtains a nickel and chides herself for taking it from the hunter without his knowledge. 

Her next meeting is more humorous. 

Then there was something tall, black, and skinny there, moving before her. At first she took it for a man.  It could have been a man dancing in the field.  But she stood still and listened and it did not make a sound. It was as silent as a ghost.  She shut her eyes reached out her hand, and touches a sleeve. 'You scarecrow,' she said. 'I ought to be shut up for good.'

Nothing will deter the spirit of this wonderful lady.

When she arrives in town, Phoenix goes to the doctor’s office.  She wearily sits down and realizes that she cannot remember why she is there.  One of the nurses recognizes her and hurries her along.  The secretary gives her a nickel, and so with the medicine Phoenix goes on her way. 

One stop though before venturing back on the path.  She has the money to buy her grandson a Christmas present.  Now, she is inspired to hurry as best she can up the hills to the waiting patient who will hug his grandmother again.

One word can summarize Phoenix—nobility.  She is cleverer than the hunter and takes his nickel. The reader easily forgives her. Her slyness is a minor negative characteristic in comparison to her innumerable positive ones and is not a conflicting quality. It is, instead, justifiable because of her pure motivation--love

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A Worn Path

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