Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Winner of an O. Henry Memorial Contest short story award, “A Worn Path” though an early story, is as accomplished as any of Welty’s later fiction. This story exemplifies Welty’s special power of placing the reader inside convincing and interesting characters without reducing the essential mystery of human character. This power makes her characters seem complete and real. In her essay on “A Worn Path,” Welty reveals that the story originated in her vision of a solitary old woman: I saw her, at a middle distance, in a winter country landscape, and watched her slowly make her way across my line of vision. The sight of her made me write the story. I invented an errand for her, but that only seemed a living part of the figure she was herself: what errand other than for someone else could be making her go?

Welty also emphasizes that, though it is possible that the grandson is dead, the really important feature of the story is Phoenix’s belief that he is alive and that “he going to last.” This incentive for Phoenix’s quest is central; the possible ambiguity of the grandson’s condition is peripheral. Welty’s expressed purpose in this story is to focus on Phoenix’s habitual goodness.

Crucial to the story’s success is Welty’s choice of narrative point of view. By confining the reader to Phoenix’s perceptions, Welty avoids the danger of sentimentality that she would have risked in a more external presentation of a good person. Though Phoenix may be no better morally than the Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), she seems more real, more in the world—in part because judgments of her character arise from the reader’s evaluation of her actions without the insistent help of an intrusive narrator.

Phoenix’s thoughts and words are enough to establish her unself-conscious love, courage, and other attractive qualities, but Welty uses the tainted evaluations of the people Phoenix meets to bring out the central qualities of love and courage that illuminate the idea Welty saw in the image that became the origin of her story. That image of a solitary old woman walking across a winter landscape came to mean “the deep-grained habit of love.”

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

War and Poverty
Welty's "A Worn Path" was published in 1941, the same year the United States entered World War II, Europe had...

(The entire section is 382 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
"A Worn Path" is told from a third-person limited point of view. This allows the reader to empathize with Phoenix,...

(The entire section is 699 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1941: Native Son, a stage adaptation of James Baldwin's novel, opens at the St. James Theater in New York City.


(The entire section is 133 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research the history of the Natchez Trace in Mississippi and the surrounding area. How has the trail been important to various groups...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

"A Worn Path" was adapted into a into a 20-minute film produced by Worn Path Productions and distributed by Pyramid Film and Video. The film...

(The entire section is 61 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

"Why I Live at the P.O.,'' a critically acclaimed story by Welty, in which a young woman's difficult relationship with her parents is exposed...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Glenn, Eunice. "Fantasy in the Fiction of Eudora Welty,'' in Critiques and Essays on Modern Fiction: Representing the...

(The entire section is 322 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Champion, Laurie. The Critical Response to Eudora Welty’s Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Gygax, Franziska. Serious Daring from Within: Female Narrative Strategies in Eudora Welty’s Novels. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Gretlund, Jan Nordby. Eudora Welty’s Aesthetics of Place. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

Gretlund, Jan Nordby, and Karl-Heinz Westarp, eds. The Late Novels of Eudora Welty. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Johnston, Carol Ann. Eudora Welty: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1997.

Kreyling, Michael. Understanding Eudora Welty. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

McHaney, Pearl Amelia, ed. Eudora Welty: Writers’ Reflections upon First Reading Welty. Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 1999.

Montgomery, Marion. Eudora Welty and Walker Percy: The Concept of Home in Their Lives and Literature. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004.

Waldron, Ann. Eudora: A Writer’s Life. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Weston, Ruth D. Gothic Traditions and Narrative Techniques in the Fiction of Eudora Welty. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.