What are some of the possible symbols in "A Worn Path" and how can you tell?
The central symbol in the story is the path Phoenix Jackson follows each time she journeys into town to get medicine for her grandson. It is long and arduous. By following the path, Phoenix must climb hills, fight her way through thorns, and crawl under a barbed-wire fence. She must cross a stream by walking over it on a log. This journey would be difficult for anyone, but Phoenix is very old and frail. Her eyesight has failed; she knows her journey by heart because she has made it many times.
Phoenix risks her life each time she follows the path, in order to help her little grandson. She faces and overcomes every obstacle. The path, therefore, symbolizes her deep and unselfish love for him. Another symbol of love is the little paper windmill she buys for him at the story's conclusion. In order to buy the toy, she had to steal one nickel from the hunter and beg for another from the nurse.
The title itself is the first clue that the path will function as a symbol in the story. The path must be especially important to become the story's title. Also, the path is "worn," suggesting it has been traveled many times. The reader might ask why Phoenix has followed that path so often. Her motivation must be very strong; love is one of the strongest of human motivations. That Phoenix would buy a toy also suggests love since gifts are frequently given out of love. One of the best questions a reader can ask in analyzing a story is "Why?"