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A story completely free of authorial commentary and intrusion, "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty is thus a controlled narrative open for different interpretations, one of which is that Phoenix is a character of heroism. Like her name, the old woman has a courage that allows her to rise above the obstacles in her path as she sets forth in her quest to obtain medicine for her sick grandson.
The heroism of Phoenix is unconscious because her actions are generated simply by her maternal instinct. Substantiating this instinctiveness of the old woman, Welty writes in the opening paragraph that Phoenix's walk is like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, suggesting the unconscious constancy and determination of the old woman.
Reinforcing the image of the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, the old woman rises from each adverse condition that she encounters as she traverses the worn path. Stoically, she tells the thorny bush that is simply "doing your appointed work," and she is undeterred by a buzzard wathcing her: "Who you watching?" When her poor eyesight mistakes something "tall, black, and skinny" for a man and then a ghost, she does not falter; instead, she puts out her hand, realizing it is just a scarecrow. She jests with herself about her poor sense of sight, saying she should be "shut up for good" and dances with the scarecrow. There is no self-pity in this woman.
When Phoenix is confronted by a hunter's dog, she is faced with a fearful situation. Bravely, she strikes at the dog with her cane only to fall backward into a ditch. After the hunter asks her what she is doing, she humorously replies that she is lying on her back "like a June-bug waiting to be turned over." With growling dogs and the threat of a rifle in the hands of a white man, Phoenix displays no trepidation. While he chases the dog away, Phoenix surreptitiously picks up a nickel that he has dropped. Faced with his gun, she straightens and faces the hunter, telling him she is not afraid, for she has "seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done."
Having finally reached Natchez and the hospital, she is treated as a "charity" case. Nevertheless, the old woman heroically focuses upon her "quest" for which she lives. In an allusion to the heroic tradition, Welty even writes,
With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited, silent, erect and motionless, just as if she were in armor.
The old woman's holy grail, of course, is her little grandson:
'We is the only two left in the world. 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.'
Endurance, fortitude, determination characterize Phoenix. These are the ingredients of unconscious heroism.
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