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Phoenix Jackson is a force of nature. Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” takes the reader along the journey with this elderly, black woman who is on a mission. As she finds her way along the worn path of her many hikes to town, it is apparent that Phoenix is strongly motivated by her sick grandson and his need for medicine. Each step that she takes seems painful as she treks along the path on a cold December morning.
The Phoenix in Greek mythology is a bird like creature that dies in fire and rises from ashes only to be stronger. This Phoenix is also a survivor. She knows her way and carries a cane made from an umbrella to secure herself as she walks along.
Phoenix faces off against Mother Nature. She encounters many obstacles on her path. She has to climb hills, cross streams and crawl under barbed wired fences, which are certainly not easy tasks for an elderly woman.
Obviously, Phoenix has physical problems and seems to come in and out of reality. The scarecrow at first is a ghost to her. She imagines that at any time she could be accosted by snakes although in this time of year there would be none around.
Her conversations as she walks along are sadly humorous. Whenever she hears or feels something in the bushes, she says:
‘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 my direction. I got a long way.’
Under her small back hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush air if to rouse up any hiding things.
Meeting the white hunter is quite a surprise for Phoenix. He helps her out of the ditch that she has fallen in because of the dog. His attitude and treatment of her is typically racist for the time of the story. He calls her Granny and tells her that he knows that she is going to town to see Santa Claus. Perceptively, she uses the wild dog to take the man away so that she can take the nickel that has fallen from his pocket. Instead of helping her, he sends on alone telling her she should go home.
But with her stalwart gumption, Phoenix travels on until she arrives at Natchez where the medicine awaits her. Indicative of her own health issues, she does not remember why she is there. Finally, the nurse recognizes her and gives her the pills. Sadly and probably with her best intentions, the nurse treats Phoenix like she is a child, telling her to hurry up because she is taking up their time. The nurse does give her a nickel for Christmas. Of course, Phoenix will take the the two nickels and buy her beloved grandson a Christmas present.
This old woman, who did not have an education and who does not really know how old she is, has traveled many miles for her grandchild. If she is able, she will come again to get his much needed medicine. Her attitude seeps into the heart because today she has risen up and received an unexpected gift, not for herself but for her child. This is a woman to admire.
What hurts the most about the journey is that Phoenix has to make the walk back facing the same obstacles that she went through before. Yet for Phoenix, her time will be well spent when her grandson gets his medicine; and she can see him smile when she gives him his windmill, the present from her heart. Reading about Phoenix Jackson is a Christmas treat in itself.
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