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Why is Phoenix taking a long trip to town in "A Worn Path"?

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In "A Worn Path," Phoenix is taking the long trip to town in order to get some medicine for her grandson. Phoenix makes this long, hard trek regularly, and given her considerable age, the journey's not getting any easier.

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Near the end of "A Worn Path," Welty reveals the reason for Phoenix’s arduous journey into town: to obtain medicine to alleviate the pain and swelling of her grandson’s burned throat. While medicine provides a logical, tangible reason for her trek, love and hope are the old woman’s true motivators.

Despite encountering obstacles—including a hill, a thorn bush, a log, a barbed-wire fence, a big dog, and a hunter—Phoenix perseveres. When she meets the condescending hunter who tells her to turn around and go home, she declares,

"I bound to go to town, mister … The time come around."

He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus!"

Santa Claus and frivolity are definitely not the reasons for Phoenix's journey. Even after the racist hunter half-seriously threatens her with a gun before commending her bravery, he repeats,

"But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you."

"I bound to go on my way, mister," said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then they went in different directions.

Phoenix remains undeterred despite the hunter’s ominous warning but still shows him respect before they part ways. Her repetition of "bound" hints that she is obligated to continue her journey to town—the reason for her trek is not yet revealed at that point in the story. Her comment that the "time come around" implies that her trip is a regular commitment.

When Phoenix finally arrives at the busy town, she seeks a "big building" where "her feet knew to stop"—a doctor’s office. Upon entry, Phoenix spots

on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.

The diploma represents hope for her grandson and his future. Phoenix softly admits to the nurse,

I never did go to school—I was too old at the Surrender … I'm an old woman without an education.

But she has dreams for her beloved grandson despite his poor health. To her, hope and love for him make the harrowing journey worthwhile. The nurse informs another character,

She doesn't come for herself—she has a little grandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace.

Two or three years earlier, the boy swallowed lye; since then, he has been living with Phoenix, but his throat has not healed. When the nurse asks if his throat has improved or if he died, the old woman replies,

My little grandson, he is just the same … No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing-medicine.

Phoenix wants to save and comfort her grandson any way she can; she shows no hesitation at traveling so far on foot. The doctor labels Phoenix an "obstinate case." Indeed, she is determined to obtain medicine whenever necessary. She still believes in him enough to continue nurturing him against all hopes.

Phoenix and the boy are all each other has left in the world, and she is fiercely protective of and caring for her special grandson.

He suffer and it don't seem to put him back at all. He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch-quilt and peep out, holding his mouth open like a little bird … I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation.

She resembles a mother bird hunting and gathering food to feed her helpless nestling. When the nurse charitably gives her a nickel, Phoenix accepts it; she combines it with the dime she took from the hunter and resolves to go to a store and buy her grandson

a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world.

Phoenix wishes to show her housebound grandson something from the outside world and expand his mind. Driven by love and hope, she completes the first half of her odyssey to buy medicine for his body and an object of curiosity for his mind. The second half of her odyssey is the journey back home. Her mission will be complete when she returns to her waiting grandson who she still believes has potential.

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In Eudora Welty's 1941 short story, elderly Phoenix Jackson walks a considerable distance from her home in rural Mississippi to the city of Natchez. Two or three years prior, her grandson had swallowed lye and badly burned his throat. She seeks medicine to help him, telling the nurse,

Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing-medicine.

Phoenix tells the nurse that she and her grandson are the only ones left in their family and that he is waiting alone at home for her. The medicine is given to her, and she is not charged for it.

On her journey, Phoenix encounters a brutal hunter and picks up a nickel that rolls from his pocket. At the clinic where she picks up the bottle of medicine for her grandson, the attendant gives her another nickel. The city of Natchez is decorated for Christmas, and Phoenix tells the nurse and the attendant that she intends to buy her grandson a paper windmill.

Phoenix takes the long trip to town to get her grandson the medicine to keep him comfortable, and when she receives and unexpected windfall, her impulse is to buy him a toy. Her devotion to the boy is what motivates her to take on the physically arduous journey and endure the insults and condescension she experiences along the way.

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A few years prior to the events of this story, Phoenix Jackson's grandson swallowed lye, an alkaline substance used in the food and cleaning industries. In the right quantities, it can be fatal if ingested. Thankfully, Phoenix's grandson didn't die, but he has suffered long-term health consequences for which he requires medicine.

As he's presumably too ill to make the journey himself, Phoenix's grandson cannot go and collect it himself, so it's Phoenix who has to make the long, hard trek to a clinic in Natchez. The journey, made on foot, would be hard enough for anyone, but for a woman of Phoenix's considerable age, it's even more of a challenge.

And yet she makes the journey anyway, even though she's all too aware of the many obstacles that stand in her way. Truth be told, Phoenix actually enjoys her little adventures. The journey, though presenting more than its fair share of difficulties, is generally a pleasurable one, not least because Phoenix feels at one with the natural world around her.

She also derives more than a hint of satisfaction from overcoming the obstacles in her path, such as when she confidently marches across a log laid across the creek. For someone of Phoenix's age, this represents something of a triumph.

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Phoenix Jackson is making the long, and somewhat dangerous, trip to town in order to procure some medicine for her grandson.

A couple years prior to the beginning of the story, the little boy swallowed lye. Lye is a rather volatile ingredient that is used to make soap, but it can burn our skin, and, when ingested, it burns the esophagus and can even cause death. Phoenix's grandson will never heal from his burns, but the medicine she goes to get from the doctor in town at least soothes his raw esophagus and makes him feel better.

The doctor has told his staff that, as long as she can make the trip to come and get the medicine for her grandson, she will be allowed to have it at no cost to her. And, because Phoenix is the only family member that her grandson has in his life, it is up to her to go for the medicine; there is, simply, no one else to go on this errand. This is why this little old woman who can hardly see must face all kinds of natural dangers, as well as frightening racism, to make the trip to town.

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Why is Phoenix taking the long trip to town?

Phoenix Jackson endures a long trip to town and perseveres through many trials along the journey in order to obtain medicine for her grandson, who remains at home.

When she arrives at the clinic, the nurse recognizes her as a regular patron. Two to three years prior, Phoenix's grandson swallowed lye, which left him with a painfully scarred throat. Phoenix says that periodically, his throat begins to swell up, leaving him unable to swallow. The medicine which she obtains at the clinic helps alleviate his symptoms. Since they are the "only two left in the world," it has fallen to Phoenix to obtain treatment that will help her grandson, since he is "not able to help himself."

Phoenix loves her grandson dearly, so even though she comments aloud that "I too old. I the oldest people I ever know," she also knows that there is no one else to help her grandson. Thus, she endures a strenuous walk and seemingly dangerous obstacles (thorns, barbed wire fences, the possibility of snakes, a man with a gun) in her quest to help him.

The story shows the power of a sacrificial love in Phoenix Jackson's dutiful return to town to obtain help for the grandson, who is dependent on her efforts.

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