What is the irony in "A Worn Path"?

"A Worn Path" has several ironies, but the biggest is that Phoenix's grandson might already be dead, meaning she made her journey to get the medicine for him for no reason.

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Irony occurs when events or words turn out to mean the opposite of what we expect.

One irony in "A Worn Path " is that Phoenix, after making the long, arduous journey to town to get medicine for her grandson, temporarily forgets why she came. A second irony is...

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that, having shown courage in making what for her is an epic quest, she is treated patronizingly when she arrives in the "city."

Perhaps the biggest irony, however, is that her grandson may be dead. While she is firmly convinced he is alive, hints sprinkled in the story indicate he might have died. When she stops to rest on her journey, for instance, she has a vision under a "pearly cloud" of mistletoe that a little boy is offering her a piece of marble cake. But when she goes to take it, there is nothing in front of her but air. The "pearly" mistletoe alludes to the pearly gates of heaven, suggesting she might have seen her grandson's ghost. When she discusses the boy in town with the nurse, Phoenix says he hasn't changed, which seems unlikely given how quickly children grow.

However, while it is ironic that Phoenix might have made an unneeded trip, the point of the story is that she had the courage, determination, and stamina to withstand the journey.

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How is irony used in "A Worn Path"?

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How is irony used in "A Worn Path"?

It is bitterly ironic that in this story, after Phoenix Jackson has overcome so many barriers and events that threaten to prevent her from reaching the surgery, the most significant barrier she faces is actually in the surgery itself, coming from the prejudice that she has to confront. If we examine when Phoenix finally enters the surgery, note how she is patronised and insulted by the attendant who speaks to her. The first thing the attendant says is "A charity case, I suppose," clearly indicating the prejudice against poor blacks. Then note how Phoenix Jackson is addressed:

"Speak up, Grandma," the woman said. "What's your name? We must have your history, you know. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?"

When Phoenix does not respond to such patronising words, the attendant assumes that she is deaf, shouting at her. Thus one important example of irony in this excellent tale is the way in which the biggest challenge that Phoenix Jackson faces is not the hunter, the animals, or nature itself, but actually the challenge of racism and prejudice, as she is patronised and mistreated most when it appears that she has been successful in her quest and faces no more barriers.

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