In "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty, please explain how Phoenix's motivations (or lack of motivation) affected her actions. 

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

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The protagonist of Eudora Welty's short story "A Worn Path" is Phoenix Jackson. She is a very old woman who lives in the backwoods alone with her grandson; she regularly makes the rather arduous journey into town to get some medicine for her him after he swallowed some lye. This story recounts one of those journeys.

One cold December morning, Phoenix Jackson begins her walk. 

Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods.... She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, 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 carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her.

She walks slowly and is often delayed as she encounters a variety of obstacles along the path. She gets caught in brambles, has to cross a creek on a log (and closes her eyes when she does), and, on this trip, she falls into a ditch because of a dog and cannot get up. All the while she talks to herself and to the animals she encounters along the way.

Once she does arrive in town, she is made fun of and demeaned by many, including the nurses at the doctor's office where she regularly gets the medicine her grandson needs. It is a difficult journey for the old woman, both physically and emotionally.

Despite these hardships and obstacles, the path she travels from her cabin in the woods to the city where she does not belong is a familiar path, a worn path. 

The path ran up a hill. "Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far," she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. 

After she got to the top she turned and gave a full, severe look behind her where she had come. "Up through pines," she said at length. "Now down through oaks."

This is a journey she makes often, and the hardship do not deter her because she is motivated by love. She will endure the strenuous walking, the thorns that tear at her clothes, the indignity of being thrown into a ditch and waiting until someone comes to rescue her, the cold, and the insults of city dwellers who think she is there to beg from them. All of these things are nothing; they are far outweighed by the love she has for her grandson. He needs medicine to ease the pain in his throat, and she is determined to provide that relief for him. He is her motivation, and her actions (this and every other journey she makes) are a direct result of her love for him. 

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