A Worn Path Questions and Answers
by Eudora Welty

A Worn Path book cover
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What are three symbols in the story?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The "red rag" that Phoenix Jackson, the protagonist, ties around her hair is symbolic of her inner fire and strength and perseverance. Red is commonly associated with very strong emotions, and Phoenix certainly has strength to spare. Further, the mythical phoenix lives again and again, growing old and then bursting into flame, then rising again from the ashes. This also makes her name itself a symbol. Like the mythical creature, Phoenix seems to have lived much longer than most, longer than seems normal; her name implies that there is something magical inside her that keeps her alive. It seems likely that this magic that keeps her alive is her love—also often symbolized by red—for her ailing grandson. Further, the narrator describes her deeply wrinkled face as having "a golden color" that runs underneath her skin, and her "cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark." These golden and yellow colors are symbolic of her inner fire as well; one significant clue is that the narrator actually uses the word "burning" to describe Phoenix's coloring. Like the phoenix, she burns and lives.

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There are many symbols in "A Worn Path." The first is that of the title, the path itself. It is a physical path, but it is also Phoenix's path through life, which she has been walking a long time.

Second comes her name. It is phoenix, the mythical bird that was burned up and reborn. She was a slave and reborn free, and is reborn in different ways throughout this story.

Third—and we're still early in the story—is her walk. She walks "moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock." She is walking out time, back and forth, like a mechanical clock that just keeps going.


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