What are heroic qualities that Phoenix possesses in "A Worn Path"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly not a prepossessing figure, Phoenix Jackson is an atypical hero. Nevertheless, she does demonstrate heroic qualities. Three such qualities that Phoenix possesses are courage, self-sacrifice, and flaws.


A very old and small woman, Phoenix is so driven by the love of her pitiful grandson that she ventures forth out into the frozen world, and will not be deterred from her quest. When there is a "quivering in the thicket," she bravely issues orders,

"Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits,....Keep the wild hogs out of my path.  Don't let none of those come running in my direction.  I got a long way."

Along the path, Phoenix faces challenges.  At one point, she declares, "Now comes the trial" as she must cross a creek by walking on a log.  Successful, Phoenix remarks, "I wasn't as old as I thought."  Then, she encounters an ominous buzzard, "Who you watching?" she asks him. Indeed, the course that she takes is fraught with obstacles as she traverses ravines, fields, a swamp. Finally, she encounters a dog, which she strikes with her cane until the owner claims him. But, to frighten her, the hunter points his gun at Phoenix who straightens and faces it, to his amazement.

"Well, Granny," he said, you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing." 

"I bound to go on my way, mister," said Phoenix.

Once at the hospital, Phoenix asks for the medicine; the doctors have told the nurse that as long as she comes for it, she may have it. And, along with the medicine, Phoenix receives a coin that she determines to carry back with her to find a windmill to delight her grandson.


Always Granny places her own desires and needs second to those of the child. Lovingly, she speaks of him to the nurse at the clinic,

"my little grandson, he sit up there in the house...waiting by himself....We is the only two left in the world....I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time.  I could tell him from all the others in creation....I'll mach myself back where he waiting ...."

Then her slow step began on the stairs...

as she commences her long return, determined to bring the boy a windmill along with his medicine.


Just as all great heroes have flaws--Lancelot loved Guenevere, Oedipus had his overbearing pride, Argon his self-doubt--so, too, is Phoenix plagued with memory loss and age that impede her in her trip and mission. As the nurse frowns at her,

...Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night.  "I never did go to school. I was too old at the Surrender....I am an old woman without an education.  It was my memory fail me."

With her mythological name, Phoenix Jackson is a likely hero to embark upon a quest for the medicine that will ease her grandson's pain.  Along the way, Phoenix encounters obstacles, but she is undeterred, for she is on a mission of love that knows no failure.

A diminutive and aging figure, Phoenix Jackson may be an unlikely hero, but she truly exhibits those qualities which make one heroic and remembered. For, like a hero, she embarks upon a quest and seems indestructible, almost immortal.