Select one of the minor characters from "A Worn Path" and discuss how he or she tries to confine (label) Phoenix Jackson, as well as how Phoenix escapes that "frame."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During her arduous trek to Natchez, old Phoenix Jackson struggles against the ailments of old age since her limbs have lost much of their agility and her eyesight is weakened. Consequently, she is at a disadvantage when accosted by other people or creatures.

Early on during her journey of love, Phoenix mistakes a scarecrow for a man. Further, as a black dog "with a lolling tongue" appears from the weeds, she is taken by surprise and strikes at it weakly with her cane. This sudden movement causes her to roll into a ditch. Phoenix talks to herself:

"Old woman, that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you."

When a white man finally comes along with his own dog on a chain, he laughs when he sees Phoenix. He calls to her, using a sobriquet reserved for relatives: "Well, Granny!" he laughed. "What are you doing there?" Rather than act insulted by his condescending language, Phoenix rises above him by making a humorous remark, "Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be turned over, Mister." She reaches up her hand for him to help her.

Nevertheless, the condescension toward Phoenix continues when the hunter asks her where she lives and where she is headed. When she tells him she is going to town, he says that the distance is way too far:

"That's as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for my trouble.... Now you go home, Granny."

"I bound to go to town, mister," said Phoenix. "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!"

Although she is insulted, Phoenix dissembles and lightly answers his question as to how old she is by saying, "There's no telling." Shifting the focus off herself, Phoenix draws attention to the black dog who sent her into the ditch. In a show of bravado, the hunter tells her he will have his dog run off the other one. In the meantime, Phoenix picks up a nickel that he has dropped. When the young hunter returns, he smiles, 

"Well, Granny... You must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I'd give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you."

"I bound to go on my way," asserts Phoenix, and they go different directions. After this experience in which the hunter tries to label her as "an old negro woman," Phoenix still has her pride intact, escaping the "frame," because she has not obeyed this young man with a higher social standing who feels himself her superior. She has even got him to chase off the dog, stole from him, and caught him in a lie. Clearly, she is not so helpless or childish as he believes, after all.

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A Worn Path

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