What point about human nature is Welty making through Phoenix’s encounter with the scarecrow in "A Worn Path"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Phoenix Jackson, who is the oldest person she knows, makes her semi-annual trip to Natchez where she picks up free medicine for her pitiable grandson who ingested lye some years before. On her way, she catches her skirts on a thorny bush which she has mistaken for a pretty green one; she negotiates her way through fences of barbed wire and traverses fields of old cotton and dead corn. In this last field she encounters something that is black and tall and extremely thin.

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.

Aware of her nearsightedness, Phoenix reaches out to touch this apparition only to find that it is a mere scarecrow. She laughs and derides herself as too old. "I ought to be shut up for good." Under the stress of this trek, old Phoenix's perception of objects along the way underlines the great physical and psychological efforts of the old woman to make her journey of love. Her perception of the scarecrow emphasizes her haunting vision of death (her grandson's and even hers) that she tries to conquer with love. For, love--what Welty calls the “deep-grained habit of love”--faces all obstacles with the hope of overpowering them, even death, and often prevails.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just to reiterate the point about the scarecrow, the representative of death, Phoenix, like many others who love, defies death out of "her habit of love" which pursues to the end whatever it can do to help the beloved.

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A Worn Path

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