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Symbolism And Crucial Themes In The Book A Worn Path

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In literature, a walk is never just a walk. In Phoenix Jackson’s case, her walk is more than just a walk to town; it is a journey. In the short story, “A Worn Path”, Phoenix Jackson (an elderly African American woman) embarks on a journey to attain medicine for her sick grandson. The story starts on a morning in December, cold outside, frost on the ground and Phoenix Jackson is walking to town. She is talking to the animals around her. Implying that she has made this walk before, she says how difficult walking has become difficult. Phoenix’s eyesight is poor and imagines a boy with cake but realizes it isn’t. As the journey becomes more and more difficult, she believes to see a ghost. It turns out to be only a scarecrow and blames her senses and disorientation on her age.

She then walks upon a black dog, taps it with her cane and falls into a ditch. She gets helped out of the ditch by a hunter, who is the dog’s owner. The hunter is carrying a bag of slain quail. Once he learns that she is walking to town he says that all old colored people won’t miss going to town to see Santa Clause. He refers to her as granny and tells her that she has to be over 100 years old. A nickel falls out of his pocket as he is laughing, and Phoenix snatches it off of the ground. The hunter points his gun at her and Phoenix says that she is not afraid because she’s seen many guns go off before.

She continues to walk towards town and eventually reaches the town of Natchez, which has Chritstmas bells ringing and filled with decorations. Once she gets to the doctors office, one of the workers assumes she is homeless and the white nurse says that she is a regular in the office to get medicine for her grandson. She refers to Phoenix as aunt even though they are not related. When the nurse asks her questions about her grandson, Phoenix is silent. Phoenix then answers that her grandson swallowed lye and needs medicine for his throat. The nurse then gives Phoenix pennies then Phoenix says that 5 pennies is a nickel. The nurse then gives her a nickel which Phoenix uses her nickel she got from the hunter and this one to buy a paper windmill for her grandson (Welty). Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” should be included on Penn Manor’s American Literature curriculum for her use of symbolism to give the story a deeper meaning, her use of figurative language to create a vivid picture of the story, and her use of references to racism throughout her work to show how life was for African American citizens.

Welty’s use of figurative language can be seen throughout the short story “A Worn Path”. Her use of figurative language gives the story a deeper meaning. Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” should be included in Penn Manor’s American Literature course for her descriptive text and figurative language for a more vivid picture for her readers. The hunter says to Phoenix, “‘Take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you’”(Welty). The metaphor is saying that if someone does not be bold and go take risks live a little and will not die but not accomplish anything or have any good times. A criticism eplains, “…the irony is obvious and so is the metaphor: don’t live and you can’t die”(Wilson 317). Readers get the point of how the hunter is trying to keep Phoenix from completing her journey. Eudora Welty explains to readers, “She walked on. The shadows hung from the oak trees to the road like curtains” (“A Worn Path”). Readers can see that Eudora Welty was undoubtedly a detailed author that does not leave any details out of the story and get a better description of the setting of the woods.. The simile can help readers visualize the scene when Phoenix makes her journey. It also makes a comparison to a dark forest which foreshadows challenge and tests throughout her journey. During Phoenix’s journey she notes, “The path ran up a hill. ‘Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,’ she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves”(Welty). Readers can tell that the chains are a reference to slavery and that Phoenix keeps on walking. During Phoenix’s journey she notes, “The path ran up a hill. ‘Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,’ she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves”(Welty). The imagery that Welty used goes deeper than just a simile, Phoenix is talking about slavery. This gives readers a hint that she could have been a slave in her life which would explain her toughness and bravery.

A criticism writes, “At times, Welty is even more obvious with her imagery. As Phoenix climbs up the tiresome hill that the path traverses, she notes that it ‘seems like there is chains on my feet, time I get this far.’ The unsettling reference to the bound slaves that Phoenix can recall from her long life is clear, yet she continues”(Sykes). Readers get the comparison of slavery to this time period. . Readers can get a better understanding of the setting, characters, and the whole story with Welty’s figurative language. She left no details out in her story “A Worn Path”.

Along with Figurative language, Welty used symbolism many times throughout the story “A Worn Path”. Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” should be included in Penn Manor’s American Literature course, for her use of symbolism of characters’ names and events throughout Phoenix’s journey. Readers see the most obvious symbol when the story opens. Phoenix Jackson is symbolized with the ancient myth of the bird Phoenix, who when it grows old, dies so that it can be reborn again. When Phoenix encounters the hunter, he tells Phoenix, “… he said, ‘you must be a hundred years old…’” (Welty). The hunter says how she is old, so readers can infer that the name Phoenix is no coincidence with her age. A criticism also writes, “The most obvious example is the name Phoenix from the mythological Egyptian bird, symbol of immortality and resurrection, which dies so that a new Phoenix may emerge from its ashes” (Isaacs). The symbol of the Phoenix can be seen with the main character and the grandson being the new Phoenix emerging from her ashes.

The hunter is many symbols one being a figure of the afterlife, “He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was one of the bob-whites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead” (Welty). Readers can see that the bag full of bob-whites are some sort of bird from the description of the beak. A criticism explains the symbol of the hunter, “That ambivalent figure of the hunter comes into play here as both a death figure (killer, bag full of slain quail)…” (Isaacs).

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A symbol of resurrection is seen with the time of the story being in december. Welty began her story with, “It was December-a bright frozen day in the early morning” (Welty). The story takes place in December, which is near Christmas time. Much like in Christianity, Christmas is when Jesus was born, leading to the resurrection which is what the Phoenix represents. The town also shows the Christmas theme, “Finally she reaches Natchez, where the Christmas bells are ringing and the town is festooned with decorations”(Wilson 313). Readers can put together that there is a symbol of resurrection. A criticism explains, “The season in which the story takes place Christmas time reinforces the theme of rebirth”(Burnhisel 321). Eudora Welty hid many little and big symbols throughout the story, and she has these symbols to show literary elements.

Not only did Welty use literary elements, she includes many allusions in her story. Many of them being to the Civil Rights Movement in the mid 1900’s. Welty’s “A Worn Path” should be included in Penn Manor’s American Literature course for her allusions to racism throughout Phoenix’s journey. The most obvious clue is the hunter. When Phoenix encounters the hunter, “She stood and faced him. ‘Doesn’t the gun scare you?’ he said, still pointing it. ‘No sir, I seen plenty go off closer, in my day, and for less than what I done’”(Welty). Readers can infer that the hunter is white and treats Phoenix like she is not a person. Welty also wrote that Phoenix has seen many guns go off before, for reasons that do not qualify for it.

The next stage is symbolized by Phoenix having to grovel on her knees for the nickel, which the hunter avers he does not have. The hunter threatening act of pointing his gun at her and his false advice—’stay home, and nothing will happen to you’—seem prophetic of Southern whites stance during the mid-fifties when blacks began to demand equal opportunities and dignity.(Butterworth)

Readers can infer that the hunter was saying that if she does not go to town nothing bad will happen to you.

When the hunter encounters Phoenix, he says, “‘I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Clause’”(Welty).The hunter can be seen as a symbolic obstacle to represent a bigger role in the Civil Rights Movement.

The hunter sees Phoenix and says, “‘Well, Granny…’”(Welty). The nurse also says when Phoenix reaches the office, “’Oh, that’s just old Aunt Phoenix,’ she said”(Welty). Readers can see from the first time they meet the hunter, that he is going to be the antagonist, and that he will not treat Phoenix with respect. They also see that either Phoenix has many relatives or they just do not like to call her by her real name. A criticism explains, “He also calls her ‘ ‘Granny,’ a term common for older African-American women. Often whiles would call older blacks ‘Aunt,’ ‘Granny,’ or ‘Uncle’ as a way of denying them their dignity and individuality. In another example of this, the nurse calls her ‘ ‘aunt Phoenix’ instead of the more formal Mrs. Jackson”(Wilson 315). Readers see that many characters refer to Phoenix as not her name. Welty used this point to show that the way whites referred to colored people in the 1900s. Readers get a sample of what it was like to live in the United States in the 1900s. A criticism writes, “Phoenix realizes that the importance of the trip far exceeds the possible harm that can be done to her brittle frame. The incident with the hunter symbolizes the resiliency of the black movement toward equality”(Sykes).

Readers that have read “A Worn Path”, can see the educational side of this short story. Eudora Welty used symbolism frequently throughout the story, with the biggest symbol being the name of the Main Character to the ancient Egyptian bird. These symbols help the story have a deeper meaning. Her use of figurative language goes deeper than just comparing things to one another. Welty’s references to life in the 50s shows that the black community were not treated fairly or with respect. Eudora Welty might not be the most exciting author to read, but she is the most interesting puzzle to solve.

Works Cited

  1. Burnhisel, Greg. ‘Greg Burnhisel.’ Short Stories For Students, Gale, 1997, pp. 320-22. Literature Resource Center,¤tPosition=1&docId=GALE%7CCX2694900029&docType=Character+overview%2C+Critical+essay%2C+Work+overview%2C+Biography%2C+Plot+summary&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=GVRL&contentSet=GALE%7CCX2694900029&searchId=R1&userGroupName=mill17935&inPS=true. Accessed 15 Nov. 2019.
  2. Butterworth, Nancy K. ‘From Civil War to Civil Rights: Race Relations in Welty’s ‘A Worn Path.” Short Story Criticism, edited by Anna J. Sheets, vol. 27, Detroit, MI, Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 14 Nov. 2019. Originally published in Eudora Welty: Eye of the Storyteller, 1989, pp. 165-72.
  3. Isaacs, Neil D. ‘Life for Phoenix.’ Short Story Criticism, edited by Anna J. Sheets, vol. 27, Detroit, MI, Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 24 Oct. 2019. Originally published in Sewanee Review, vol. 71, no. 1, Winter 1963, pp. 75-81.
  4. Sykes, Dennis J. ‘Welty’s ‘The Worn Path..” Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena Krstovic, vol. 111, Detroit, MI, Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 24 Oct. 2019. Originally published in Explicator, vol. 56, no. 3, Spring 1998, pp. 151-53.
  5. Welty, Eudora. ‘A Worn Path.’ University of Virginia, U of Virginia, 2009, Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.
  6. ‘A Worn Path.’ Short Stories for Students, edited by Kathleen Wilson, vol. 2, Detroit, Gale, 1997, pp. 312-28. Gale eBooks, Accessed 30 Oct. 2019.

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