Introduction to A Worn Path

“A Worn Path” is a short story by Eudora Welty. It was originally published in Atlantic Monthly in 1947 and was later nominated for the O. Henry Award, which is given to short stories of considerable merit. Though the story itself is a simple recounting of elderly Phoenix Jackson’s journey into town to obtain medicine for her grandson, the narrative gains mythic importance due to Phoenix’s consistent interactions with the world around her. As she walks the worn path, she calls out to the animals and plants, and she infuses the landscape with a sense of wonder and liveliness.

Some critics have remarked that Phoenix’s journey, as seemingly simple as it may be, has elements of a fantastical odyssey, with Phoenix overcoming many hardships in pursuit of her goals. The vision of an elderly Black woman traveling obstinately along a worn path inspired Welty to craft the story, and Phoenix’s miniature odyssey glorifies everyday feats of strength and devotion.

One of the driving themes of the story is love. Phoenix’s love for her grandson motivates her to make the arduous journey into town for his medicine, and her sense of purpose allows her to face the judgment, racism, and derision of the white pharmacists with grace and poise. Whereas the so-called professional healers at the pharmacy go about their tasks out of duty and obligation, Phoenix is driven by a selfless love for her grandson.

A Brief Biography of Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty (1909–2001) was an American writer who had a good ear, the kind that could pick up and process the subtleties of a dialogue or an accent—the kind of ear that can make for great writing. And a great writer she undoubtedly was. Her most celebrated medium was the short story, and her main subject was the family, though she personally never married. Her favorite setting was generally the South, in particular Mississippi, where she spent the majority of her life. Imbuing her work with both a sense of humor and respect, Welty created characters that are often lonely and complex, full of longing but strangely fulfilled. Besides four collections of celebrated short stories, including A Curtain of Green and The Golden Apples, she also wrote an influential nonfiction book, On Writing. Her main advice to new writers was to learn to listen.

Frequently Asked Questions about A Worn Path

A Worn Path

Welty's story does use foreshadowing. How you understand it depends on what you think about Phoenix's mental state. It's left unclear, at the end of the story, whether Phoenix's grandson is still...

Latest answer posted October 30, 2021, 1:53 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

There are several antagonists in "A Worn Path." The initial antagonistic force is the path itself. Phoenix is an elderly woman, making the physical exertion of travel much harder for her than it...

Latest answer posted October 30, 2021, 11:32 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

"A Worn Path" is about an old woman's journey through the woods and fields to the city to get medicine for her grandson. At the end, she has succeeded in her mission: she has medicine from the...

Latest answer posted October 30, 2021, 11:27 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

The purpose of Phoenix Jackson's journey is to obtain the "soothing-medicine" her grandson needs to be able to feel better. He swallowed lye, a caustic chemical substance often used for making...

Latest answer posted October 30, 2021, 1:51 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

In “A Worn Path,” Phoenix endures an arduous journey from her rural home to the town of Natchez to obtain medication for her grandson. Having burned his throat years earlier, the grandson needs...

Latest answer posted October 29, 2021, 7:00 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

It's first important to establish what constitutes heroism. Definitions will vary, but generally speaking, heroes are selfless, brave, and noble. Phoenix embodies all of these qualities as she...

Latest answer posted October 29, 2021, 12:28 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

Phoenix's grandson swallowed lye several years prior to the start of the story. Lye is a caustic chemical, typically used for making household cleaning products, that can burn human tissue. As a...

Latest answer posted October 29, 2021, 1:27 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

Setting generally comprises both time and place. We learn toward the end of the text that it is the Christmas season, that there are "red and green electric lights strung" all over the streets of...

Latest answer posted October 29, 2021, 12:58 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

At the end of the story, Phoenix wheedles a nickel from the nurse and is able to put this together with a nickel she already has to buy a toy windmill, or pinwheel, as a Christmas gift for her...

Latest answer posted October 29, 2021, 11:59 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

The attendant’s pennies in Eudora Welty’s short story “A Worn Path” could represent a few things, including guilt, charity, or resourcefulness. To argue that the attendant’s pennies represent...

Latest answer posted October 28, 2021, 3:18 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

In "A Worn Path," imagery is often used to create biblical allusions and connections to universal themes. In the third paragraph of the story, the imagery of Phoenix walking through the woods is...

Latest answer posted October 27, 2021, 12:18 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

Irony occurs when events or words turn out to mean the opposite of what we expect. One irony in "A Worn Path" is that Phoenix, after making the long, arduous journey to town to get medicine for her...

Latest answer posted October 27, 2021, 11:55 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

In "A Worn Path," Welty leaves it ambiguous whether or not the grandson is dead. The story is told from the point of view of the grandmother, Phoenix, who succeeds as an old woman in making the...

Latest answer posted October 27, 2021, 11:38 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

The name "Phoenix" seems to symbolize Phoenix Jackson's almost magical ability to stay alive and make the incredibly difficult journey through the wilderness to the city for her grandson's...

Latest answer posted October 30, 2021, 2:14 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

As she is traveling past fields to town, Phoenix Jackson thinks she sees a ghost. It is tall, thin, and black. At first, she thinks it is a living man. Then she notices it is completely quiet, "as...

Latest answer posted October 27, 2021, 12:29 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

The climax of a story is the point at which the conflict reaches its highest level; after this point in the story, the conflict is brought to resolution. The climax in Eudora Wetly's "A Worn Path"...

Latest answer posted October 27, 2021, 5:15 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

Phoenix's grandson is sick because he has swallowed lye. This is a strong substance that was once regularly used for cleaning. Swallowing lye can cause serious damage to the throat and stomach...

Latest answer posted October 28, 2021, 11:19 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

In "A Worn Path," Phoenix Jackson is on a journey to obtain much-needed medicine for her grandson. The central conflict she faces is with her society, yet she also faces conflict with nature as she...

Latest answer posted October 28, 2021, 11:43 am (UTC)

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A Worn Path

Certainly, Phoenix Jackson’s poor eyesight is one indicator of her advanced age and frailty, something that should make the arduous trek into Natchez all the more challenging. She is not a young,...

Latest answer posted October 28, 2021, 12:11 pm (UTC)

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A Worn Path

On Phoenix Jackson’s path to Natchez to collect the medicine for her grandson, her path runs up a hill. She remarks, as she approaches this hill, that when she reaches this point in the journey, it...

Latest answer posted October 28, 2021, 12:46 pm (UTC)

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