What happens to Phoenix Jackson when she gets home? "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When responding to a question that extends beyond the text, such as the one mentioned above, readers must respond with statements that can be supported by details from the story.  That is, the response to what happens to Phoenix Jackson must remain in character; it must have verisimilitude with the characterization already provided by the author. Therefore, there are certain characteristics about Phoenix to consider in answering this question that calls for readers' projection. 

1.  Phoenix is very, very old and has both memory lapses and illusionary thoughts as a result of her senility.  Because of her aged condition, the reader must consider whether or not the little grandson is even yet alive.  Remember that when Phoenix arrives at the clinic after coming once again down the path worn by her many trips, the nurse does ask herrepeatedly about the boy and she does not respond,"withdrawn into rigidity."  Finally, the nurse asks, "He isn't dead is he?"  After all, his condition is severe, so it is entirely possible that in her senility and desire for companionship, as well as her undying love, Phoenix does not recognize that the poor boy is dead.  Also, she herself says,

"My grandson.  It was my memory had left me.  There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip."

That the grandson is dead when Phoenix Jackson returns is,then, a real possibility.

2.  Phoenix may not make the trip home.  She is obviously exhausted from the trek to the clinic.  The final line of the story denotes that her energies are spent:  "Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down."  However, readers may feel that Welty suggests the resilience of this old woman whose name is Phoenix.  Like the bird that rises from the ashes, this loving grandmother may somehow find the energy to return hom since she feels that she must care for the boy as she has told others that she is all he has.

3. Even though she is so determined to return, Phoenix may lose her way because of her memory lapses and because there is the corn field through which she must traverse, a "maze" as she calls it.  Then, if she does finally arrive, it may be too late for the boy, who lives only long enough to see her and say good-bye. 


At any rate, in order to decide how the story might be extended with verisimilitude, readers need to peruse the narrative again, looking for phrases and sentences that indicate the possibilities of a certain ending that can be supported with the text, for verisimilitude is essential for a worthy response.


favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's true that Phoenix Jackson is very old, or at least that she is somewhat senile. She knows why she makes the difficult journey, but when she reaches the doctor's office, she seems to forget, well, everything for a few moments. She seems to be doing almost everything by rote, because it's what she's been doing for so long now. In fact, the narrator says that "Old Phoenix would have been lost [in the city] if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her." Then, once she reaches the doctor's office, she tells the Nurse, whose questions she doesn't even appear to recognize at being directed at her, that "'It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip." The narrator describes her recognition as "a flicker and then a flame of comprehension" that moved across her face. When her memory returns, it is described as fire, and this seems to connect to her name: Phoenix, a bird who bursts into flame and then is reborn from the ashes. It seems, then, that Phoenix's memory, like a flame, suddenly goes out, and then it returns, just as suddenly, to life. Phoenix leaves again, with her "slow step," and I see no reason that her life, upon returning home, would not continue much the same way it has gone for the last two or three years, since her little grandson swallowed lye. Her lack of recognition in the doctor's office seems to me to be the result of her senility and not a denial that he has passed, in large part because of the flame metaphor for her memory and its connection to her name. For these reasons, because she always seems to be able to rise again when necessary, I believe that nothing much will happen to Phoenix when she arrives home. She will continue in the way she has lived, and continue and continue, her memory born and reborn again, because that is what her young grandson requires.