How does the setting in “A Worn Path" foreshadow the story?

Quick answer:

The setting foreshadows the story in several ways. The bright morning juxtaposes with her surroundings, indicating how old Phoenix is compared to the "meditative" tapping of her cane. The frozen ground contrasts with the still air, which itself symbolizes the difficulties Phoenix will encounter in her journey; by tapping her cane against this solidified force, she can move forward with her quest.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The setting of Welty's story comes in the early morning of the last month of the year, symbolically juxtaposing a beginning and an end.  The morning is bright and conceals nothing, yet Phoenix moves in the shadows along the path "through the pinewoods," to create another contrast.  Though the ground...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

is frozen, Phoenix persistently taps her cane against it. One last contrast is found when Welty's narrator describes the "still air" broken by the "meditative" tapping of Phoenix's cane.

The setting foreshadows the difficulties Phoenix will encounter in her journey to get medicine for her grandson.  The threats and condescension she will experience are fresh, like the morning, but old, like the end of the year, because racism, sexism, and ageism are perennial societal ills.

Phoenix walks in the shadows because society has put her there.  An old black woman is of little value in her time and place. The bright morning symbolizes how openly and freely discrimination takes place.

Ultimately, Phoenix prevails in her quest to get the medicine her grandson needs.  The tapping of her cane against the frozen ground symbolizes Phoenix's quiet persistence against the cold, solidified forces of discrimination that seek to impede her progress. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the first paragraph, the setting is described as December, and "a bright frozen day in the early morning" and this depicts contrasting images of brightness and cold.  It is not a harsh morning, it is a bright one.  This foreshadows the coming of reality, because eventually Phoenix will engage in a journey that results in only spiritual knowledge.

Phoenix carries and umbrella, tapping it on the ground before her.

This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.

This image also foreshadows the ending by telling us that she is in a "meditative state" and her journey is more in her head than physical.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the meaning of the short story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty?

Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” touches on a few different themes. The story shows the strength of love and perseverance. The trip she makes along the worn path to Natchez to get medicine for her sick grandchild is not an easy one. The path was icy, she had to watch out for wild hogs, and even wriggle under a barbed wire fence. She falls into a ditch because of a mean dog. All of this must be extremely difficult for a frail, elderly lady. Yet she makes the journey because she loves her grandson, and the strength of that love gives her the physical strength to persevere. Additionally she perseveres in other ways in everyday life. She cares for a child with a damaged throat and endures living in poverty.

A minor theme is racial prejudice, another hardship Phoenix Jackson must endure. The white hunter who helps her out of the ditch calls her Granny in a condescending tone and enjoys showing power over her by pointing a gun at her. The white shopper calls her “Grandma,” and the nurse calls her “Aunt Phoenix.” But they do still treat her with a small degree of kindness and sympathy, as when the nurse gives her a nickel. The story takes place around 1940, before the Civil Rights Movement.

Despite her exhaustion, Phoenix makes the difficult journey in order to help her grandson. She even uses her precious few nickels to buy him a paper windmill, a simple toy that they could not afford. Her love gives her direction, purpose, and strength.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the foreshadowing in "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty?

There is quite a bit of foreshadowing in the story, "A Worn Path" by Welty. Phoenix Jackson, an old woman, struggles to reach town. Along the way her struggle is foreshadowed by many obstacles. One of the first is the wild hogs. This foreshadowing is followed by the thorns: "I in the thorny bush . . . " (paragraph 8). Phoenix has to cross on a log then crawl under a barbed wire fence. If that is not enough, she walks into a field of dead corn that she calls a maze. The reader learns that these images foreshadow the difficulty she has in reaching the town to get her grandson's medicine.

Why the above foreshadowing? It serves to highlight the strength and determination of the old woman to take care of her grandson. Symbolically, these images can also serve to represent the struggles of African Americans. However, Phoenix does not die, and when she decides to purchase the small gift for her grandson, it appears they will overcome their struggles. Just as her name, Phoenix, suggests, the mythical phoenix is a bird who lived a very long time and rose from the ashes. Phoenix Jackson is still full of life and vitality despite her poverty.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the foreshadowing in "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty?

In Eudora Welty's "A Worn path" the foreshadowing that is most obvious is inthe first paragraph. See below:

"It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. 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. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird."

Notice how Welty describes her as moving a little from side to side like a pendulum. This part symbolizes time. It foreshadows death. The next sentence "This made a grave...that seemed meditative.." This is also foreshadowing of death.

This story is so beautiful and has many illusions to time and how time is spent and death. We, as the readers, don't know about her dying grandson until later in the story.

Later in the story, Welty writes:

"Ghost," she said sharply, "who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by."

This is a direct foreshadowing of death close by.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty? .

Phoenix Jackson is an unforgettable character that permeates Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path.” Her mission in life is to help her grandson be comfortable and happy despite his terrible injury from swallowing lye and damaging his throat.

On this cold, December morning, Phoenix, an elderly black woman, walks a path that she has traveled many times to get her grandson’s medicine. The journey has many obstacles that hinder her travel, yet Phoenix is undaunted by the difficulty of the trip.

Phoenix has her own issues.  Aged, unable to see well, losing her memory, unsteady—nothing will deter Phoenix on her path to Natchez for the medicine. She carries an umbrella as a cane to shoo away any critters.

Theme

One of the primary themes of the story is perseverance.  No word better describes Phoenix.  She faces so many hardships as she treks along her path. Her walk to Natchez demonstrates her persistence in a hostile world.   As she walks along, she often hears sounds in the bushes around her. If her walk was not so precarious, her banter would be humorous:

Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons, and will animals!...Keep out from under these feet, little bobwhites…Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction I go a long way.

Her path takes her up hills, woods, and then down the hills. Phoenix goes through thorn bushes and trembles as she finds her way. Her biggest fear is going across a creek with a log laid across it. Further on, she has to go under a barbed-wire fence. 

After falling in a ditch, a hunter pulls her up and out. The hunter depicts the racist attitudes of the south. He tells Phoenix to go back home because he believes that the only reason that she is going to town is to see Santa Claus. The hunter refers to her as “grandma” which is the same as calling a black man “boy.” These are the attitudes that Phoenix must endure as she strives to get to the medicine for her grandson.

Finally, she arrives in town to get the much needed medicine. When she arrives at the doctor’s office, the nurse treats her with little patience.  Telling her to hurry up and do what she needs to do.  Sadly, Phoenix has to sit down and rest because she cannot remember why she is there.  One of the nurses feels sorry for the old woman and gives her a nickel to spend.

Phoenix Jackson is a case study in determination.  Her dogged resolution to travel her worn path to help her grandson speaks volumes about the quality of her character.  Phoenix faces hardships every day.  The evils of racism, abject poverty, old age, and the daily care of her beloved injured grandson—these make the daily life of this phenomenal woman.

Happiness to Phoenix comes from the two nickels that now holds in her hand.  She will take her money and buy her grandson a present for Christmas.  This will drive her back on the worn path to the smiles of her boy.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are some motives and foreshadowing in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path"?

Eudora Welty placed, as all good writers did, a great deal of emphasis on establishing the setting in which a story would occur.  Such was certainly the case with her short story "A Worn Path."  It is a tale about an elderly indigent woman, Phoenix Jackson, “an old Negro woman,” making the long trek to a medical clinic to get medicine for her grandson who is seriously ill from having ingested lye – a detail not divulged until late in the story.  Right from the start, Welty injected suspense into her tale by placing her elderly, frail protagonist in that most malevolent of settings, the woods: “She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows . . .”  That phrase, “the dark pine shadows,” is deliberately employed to evoke a sense of dread.  Throughout the following narrative, the author continues to provide hints of dangers to come, as, for instance, when she writes that “every time she [Phoenix] took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes.”  So, we have an elderly, frail African American woman navigating the woods at night in the racist American South.  Darkness is in and of itself a threatening feature.  Add wild animals – “Keep the big wild hogs out of my path,” Phoenix says to herself as she sets out on her journey, wild hogs being infamously violent – and the constant fear of tripping in the dark and breaking bones, and Welty has succeeded in establishing a foreboding environment.  Phoenix encounters a hunter, a white man with a gun and a large dog, the very definition of threatening in the Deep South when the vulnerable character is black. Welty builds suspense until her protagonist reaches her destination, only to have Phoenix confronted by the most pernicious threat yet, a condescending medical clinic administrator who gazes at the old black woman and says, "A charity case, I suppose."

Welty has taken her protagonist, and the reader, on a frightening journey through the woods at night only to have Phoenix insulted on her mission of mercy.  The author’s motive in presenting Phoenix Jackson’s story as she did was probably to emphasize the irony in the old woman’s situation.  When questioned by a nurse, Phoenix experiences a mental lapse, forgetting the purpose of her long walk through the woods, further adding to the sense of irony while providing the story, and its main character, an added element of pathos.  We don’t know how many more such journeys Phoenix has in her, but she will most assuredly make the trek at least one more time. 

Last Updated on