The story 'A Worn Path begins in December with an ancient black woman strolls through a pine forest. Her name is Phoenix Jackson. She is wearing a red cloth tied around her head, her shoes are unlaced, and her face has “numberless branching wrinkles.” Phoenix’s age and poverty are highlighted through these descriptions The cane both aids her physically and acts as a rather useless weapon against the natural dangers she knows she might come across in her journey along the rural path.
The difficulty of her unexplained journey is made clear in the way her body, and her mind pleads that she stop; her determination is expressed in the simple fact that she does not. Aged and frail, she waves her cane at animals she thinks she hears moving in the brush. She does not want them to hinder her as she has “a long way” to go. Phoenix continues down the long path. She looks back at where she has come from, thinking about how hard the journey always is for her, how “something always…pleads I should stay”. As she continues, Phoenix’s skirt gets tangled in a bush, and she gingerly removes it so that the fabric does not rip, her fingers, “quick and intent.” However, each time she succeeds another part of her dress gets caught. She refuses to let the thorns tear up her skirt, but she understands that they are “doing [their] appointed work.' After finally freeing herself, she continues her journey.
Coming to a river with only a log for a bridge, Phoenix declares, “Now comes the trial.” She crosses it successfully with her eyes closed, which proves to her that she is not as frail as might be thought. The trials and obstacles of the journey reflect the sometimes random and unfair toils of her life, yet Phoenix possesses a wry sense of humor and accepts her obstacles as part of life. Closing her eyes at the bridge emphasizes her faith in a higher being who will watch and protect her, as well as her memory or inner strength over her physical senses and abilities. Sitting down to rest by a tree, Phoenix imagines a boy handing her a piece of cake, though she gets up quickly after realizing this is only meditation.
Her meditation of the boy shows Phoenix’s tendency to drift off. The reflection also suggests how her life might have looked had she and her family lived a more carefree life – a boy bringing her, in her old age, cake. Though a dreamer, she is also a determined realist, tending to her obstacles one at a time, and never shying from her path.