What obstacles does Phoenix face in the valley in "A Worn Path"?

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The name "Phoenix" symbolizes the main character's ability to continue living long past what would be expected, linking her to the mythological creature who dies in flame and is reborn from its own ashes. Her associations with light, fire, and heat further support and emphasize this symbolism.

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In reading "A Worn Path," the reader is filled with complete disbelief that Old Phoenix is not only able to complete her journey but does so periodically and completely alone. She first makes her way though pinewoods, shooing away any rustling of animals that she hears within the shrubbery. When she comes to a hilly area, she feels as though she has "chains on her feet" because the climb is so exhausting.

At the bottom of the hill, she catches her dress on a thorn bush and becomes slightly frustrated and discouraged. She then faces her first real trial, having to cross a creek over a single log. After accomplishing this, she is so tired that she needs momentary rest and even hallucinates a small boy offering her cake. Nonetheless, she presses on.

She passes under a barbed-wire fence and through the maze of a cornfield, and soon comes to a ravine where she is menaced by a large black dog. However, a hunter helps her to chase it off, and seems to admire her.

Phoenix's greatest and most tragic challenge arises when she is already in town. As she is entering the clinic, her memory completely fails her, and she forgets why she is there. As the clinic workers prod her on, she struggles to recall what it is that she came for. However, once a worker speculates that her grandson might be dead, her memory floods back to her, as if the thought of her grandchild fuels her resolve.

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There are many physical challenges that Old Phoenix endures on her path to find medicine for her grandson. Outside of her own infirmity and age, she struggles with various obstacles.

The first thing she faces is a thornbush which snags her outfit, catching her and ripping her clothes a bit in the process. This delays and hinders her on what is already a long and arduous journey for an infirm old lady. After this, she has to travel through a corn field, which is difficult in and of itself, even without the lack of a path—which makes it clearly worse.

Later, Old Phoenix has to descend into a ravine, where she is threatened by a dog. She hits the dog, though she falls into a ditch in the process and is eventually threatened by a hunter. She perseveres in spite of this and continues onward. When she is almost to the clinic, she realizes her shoes have come untied, and she has to have them laced back up by a passing stranger. In the end, she gets the medicine but must once again make the perilous journey back.

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The short story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty tells of an old African American woman named Phoenix Jackson who makes a long trip into town to obtain medicine for her grandson. Years ago he had swallowed some lye, and he needs the medication to soothe his throat. If you start at the beginning and go through the story paragraph by paragraph, you'll find that Phoenix faces numerous obstacles on her journey.

The primary obstacle she carries with her all the time: it's her old and uncooperative body. She has trouble walking, she needs a makeshift cane to help her, and she has trouble with her own shoelaces. She also has difficulty seeing properly.

The first outside physical obstacle she encounters is a thorn bush. It catches on her dress, and she has to pull it off carefully so that her dress doesn't tear. She then has to walk over a log laid across a creek. This frightens her, so she closes her eyes as she walks across. The next obstacle is a barbed wire fence, which she has to get by very carefully.

She has to go through a cornfield that she calls a maze because there is no path. In the midst of the corn she comes across the scarecrow, which she first thinks is a ghost.

When she descends into a ravine, she comes across a black dog, which she hits with her cane. She then falls into a ditch and has trouble getting out. The white hunter that comes along pulls her out, but he becomes the next obstacle by pointing his gun at her, taunting her and telling her to go home.

Phoenix has almost reached the medical clinic when she realizes that her untied shoelaces are an obstacle. She asks a passerby to tie them for her.

Finally, throughout the story, Phoenix's mind is sometimes an obstacle to her. She lapses into daydreams on occasion, and at the clinic for a short time, she forgets why she is there.

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Phoenix Jackson faces a number of obstacles in the valley as she travels to the doctor's office to procure the medicine needed by her grandson. Before she even reaches the bottom of the big hill that always seems to want her to stay, her skirts catch in a thorny bush, and it seems as though "before she could pull them free in one place they were caught in another." 

Next, Phoenix comes to a creek, and she must walk across a log to reach the other side. She lifts up her skirts, closes her eyes, and walks across. After sitting for a short rest, she has to make her way through a barbwire fence. Phoenix, an old woman, must get down on her hands and knees and crawl like a baby in order to avoid getting her clothes or skin snagged in the barbs. After this, she has to walk through the old cotton fields and a field of dead corn; there is no longer a path for this part, and she refers to it as a maze. As she makes her way from the valley, even more things happen to delay her, but she continues her plodding way forward, letting her feet remember the way.

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What does the name Phoenix symbolize in "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 medicine. A phoenix is a mythological creature, a beautiful red bird that bursts into flames when it grows old; then, it is reborn from the ashes of its old self. This cycle repeats itself over and over.

Likewise, much of the language associated with Phoenix is associated with fire. Early on, the narrator says that a "golden color" runs underneath her forehead and that her cheeks are "illumined by a yellow burning under the dark." Later, when she sits in the doctor's office, a "flicker and then a flame of comprehension [comes] across her face" as she remembers why she has come. Furthermore, the narrator says that there is "sweat on her face" and that her "wrinkles [...] shone like a bright net," almost like she is lit from within by the light and heat from some flame. It is as though Phoenix is animated by something magical, like the love she feels for her little grandson is so strong that it actually sustains her life and keeps her going, just like the phoenix's life continues long after it should be over.

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Discuss Phoenix's dialect in "A Worn Path."

Phoenix Jackson's dialect is used to characterize her as a resilient, Southern Black woman.

When Phoenix mistakes a scarecrow for a ghost, she laughs at her own confusion, attributing the error to her age:

I ought to be shut up for good ... My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know.

Phoenix drops verbs here ("I [am] too old") and also demonstrates pronoun disagreement ("I the oldest people"). These omissions and disagreement characterize her as likely lacking a formal education. A similar dialect pattern is seen when she enters the building in town: "Here I be."

When she is confronted by the man in the woods, he asks Phoenix if his gun scares her. She is confident in her reply: "No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done."

Again, Phoenix's dialect reflects the omission of verbs but also demonstrates respect for the man who stands in her path with a gun. Phoenix's reply thus conveys both dignity and resilience, which are captured in her simple and straightforward dialect.

"A Worn Path" was published in 1941, so Phoenix was likely born sometime before the Civil War began. She has therefore experienced great adversity, particularly in the setting of Mississippi. Dialect is used to demonstrate the innate strength that has developed despite Phoenix's humble life.

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Describe Phoenix in "A Worn Path".

Phoenix is the main character in this story.  She is a black woman who seems to be getting quite old.  She is old enough that the walk to town is no longer easy.  She walks in small steps and uses a cane.  She is old enough that, when she falls in the ditch, she is not able to get out on her own and has to stay there until the white hunter comes and helps her out of the ditch.

Mentally, she is also getting pretty old.  For example, she imagines that there is a boy giving her a piece of cake.

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How was Phoenix kind in "A Worn Path"?

Because of her age, the journey is a difficult one. Even when she gets caught in the thorns, she seems to be sympathetic to the thorns themselves. "Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush." Here, Phoenix is even kind to the thorns. It is as if she has a kinship with the forest and/or the natural world of her environment. Later, she doesn't curse the scarecrow for scaring her; she laughs about it. These reactions reveal an aspect of her kindness. 

Phoenix's kindness is truly demonstrated by her dedication to her grandson. She is too old to continue making the trip into town, but she does so to get her grandson's medicine. She "rises" again and again to make the trip. This relates to the significance of her name: the phoenix rising from the ashes. She is so dedicated to the care of her grandson that she even uses all of her spare change to buy her grandson a windmill.

Whether other people are rude (the hunter) or kind, Phoenix is polite. She thanks the woman for tying her shoe and she thanks the nurse even though the nurse is dismissive when Phoenix has an unresponsive spell. 

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