Near the end of "A Worn Path," Welty reveals the reason for Phoenix’s arduous journey into town: to obtain medicine to alleviate the pain and swelling of her grandson’s burned throat. While medicine provides a logical, tangible reason for her trek, love and hope are the old woman’s true motivators.
Despite encountering obstacles—including a hill, a thorn bush, a log, a barbed-wire fence, a big dog, and a hunter—Phoenix perseveres. When she meets the condescending hunter who tells her to turn around and go home, she declares,
"I bound to go to town, mister … The time come around."
He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus!"
Santa Claus and frivolity are definitely not the reasons for Phoenix's journey. Even after the racist hunter half-seriously threatens her with a gun before commending her bravery, he repeats,
"But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you."
"I bound to go on my way, mister," said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then they went in different directions.
Phoenix remains undeterred despite the hunter’s ominous warning but still shows him respect before they part ways. Her repetition of "bound" hints that she is obligated to continue her journey to town—the reason for her trek is not yet revealed at that point in the story. Her comment that the "time come around" implies that her trip is a regular commitment.
When Phoenix finally arrives at the busy town, she seeks a "big building" where "her feet knew to stop"—a doctor’s office. Upon entry, Phoenix spots
on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.
The diploma represents hope for her grandson and his future. Phoenix softly admits to the nurse,
I never did go to school—I was too old at the Surrender … I'm an old woman without an education.
But she has dreams for her beloved grandson despite his poor health. To her, hope and love for him make the harrowing journey worthwhile. The nurse informs another character,
She doesn't come for herself—she has a little grandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace.
Two or three years earlier, the boy swallowed lye; since then, he has been living with Phoenix, but his throat has not healed. When the nurse asks if his throat has improved or if he died, the old woman replies,
My little grandson, he is just the same … No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing-medicine.
Phoenix wants to save and comfort her grandson any way she can; she shows no hesitation at traveling so far on foot. The doctor labels Phoenix an "obstinate case." Indeed, she is determined to obtain medicine whenever necessary. She still believes in him enough to continue nurturing him against all hopes.
Phoenix and the boy are all each other has left in the world, and she is fiercely protective of and caring for her special grandson.
He suffer and it don't seem to put him back at all. He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch-quilt and peep out, holding his mouth open like a little bird … I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation.
She resembles a mother bird hunting and gathering food to feed her helpless nestling. When the nurse charitably gives her a nickel, Phoenix accepts it; she combines it with the dime she took from the hunter and resolves to go to a store and buy her grandson
a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world.
Phoenix wishes to show her housebound grandson something from the outside world and expand his mind. Driven by love and hope, she completes the first half of her odyssey to buy medicine for his body and an object of curiosity for his mind. The second half of her odyssey is the journey back home. Her mission will be complete when she returns to her waiting grandson who she still believes has potential.