Please explain the significance of the worn path in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path."

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The primary symbol in Eudora Welty's short story "A Worn Path" is, in fact, a path. A worn one. Old Phoenix Jackson walks this path often as she goes to town to get medicine for her grandson, and it is both worn and familiar. In fact, she knows all the animals and all the arduous terrain along the path. At one point, she reaches a tenuous bridge which she must cross, and she does so with her eyes closed. 

At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.

"Now comes the trial," said Phoenix.

Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.

In the literal sense, then, the path is worn because she walks it often. Though it is December and the ground is frozen, Phoenix Jackson walks this path. When it is steamy and hot in the summer, we know Phoenix Jackson will walk this path, as well. She has traveled it, and, though she is old, she will continue to travel it.

In a figurative sense, this worn path is the evidence of Phoenix Jackson's love and commitment. Though she is best suited to her mountain cabin, Phoenix Jackson will venture to the city--where she does not fit in and is often treated poorly--because she loves her grandson and will do what she must to care for him. This is a journey of love, and she makes it willingly.

Her physical journey is symbolic of her emotional journey which demonstrates her love for a chronically sick little boy who is her life. The title encompasses both aspects of the worn path.

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