In A Worn Path, What do all the obstacles Pheonix faces represent?

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price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty is a complicated story despite its seemingly simple plot about an old black woman walking to town to get medicine for her grandson.   One key to the story is understanding the meaning of the title.  A lot of time in literature when an author uses something like a path, road, or river, it symbolizes a much different journey.  Because we travel on paths and roads, they become representative of the larger journey of life.  The hardships Phoenix Jackson encounters on her trip to town shows the obstacles she has had to face her entire life. 

A phoenix is a mythological bird that every 100 years builds a nest of spices, catches on fire, dies, and is reborn again.  The phoenix physically falls in death and rises with new life.  If you look at the actions or verbs in the story, Phoenix’s trip is a series of falling and rising.  For example, she falls in a ditch when she encounters the hunter and his dog.  She walks up a flight of stairs to get the medicine from the doctor.  Throughout the story, she encounters obstacles like snakes, the hunter, and hills.  She physically goes up a hill and down into the ditch.  This up and down rhythm in the story shows how Phoenix’s life has also been a series of good and bad times.  She has had to face racism as represented by the hunter.  The snake represents the evil that has been present in her life.  If you read closely, you will also notice that Phoenix experiences times when she isn’t very lucid or aware of her surroundings.  In these instances, she is figuratively dying only to rise again like a Phoenix. 

To put it all together, Phoenix Jackson has led a tough life symbolized by the worn path she travels.  Despite all of the obstacles and hardships she has had to face, she continues to get up and keep going like the mythological bird.  She continues on for her grandson and teaches him to not give up even though the path of life can be difficult. 

p.s. Did you notice that the grandson is described as a little bird in the final paragraphs of the story?

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