Literary Research Paper: A Worn Path by Eudora Welty

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Sewanee University of the South
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Plenty of literature has been written depicting the struggle that the African Americans went through before the issues of ending slavery and racial discrimination was put into serious consideration by the law (Baker Jr 36). The stories depict struggle, perseverance, hope and faith on the challenges that they faced. The issue of perseverance is used in literature to define characters who keep on persisting to achieve certain objectives regardless of the challenges. The characters tend to endure the challenges with the hope that things will work out for them. Perseverance is accompanied with aspects such as sacrifice, love, determination, struggle and selflessness. The characters exhibit immense courage until they accomplish their desires (Baker Jr 36). Eudora Welty, in the story, A Worn Path, uses the character, Phoenix Jackson to illustrate the aspects of perseverance, religious quest, and ageing for individuals from the African American community at a time when they were not fully accepted into the American society.

A worn path presents a short and a simple story about a journey taken by an old African-American woman to get her medicine for her sick grandchild. Her grandson is sick after ingesting lye and hence making her engage in a bi-annual journey to get him medicine with the hope that he might recover. The journey entails plenty of difficulties, but the old women persist with the view that her grandchild must get medicine. Her home is in the countryside by which she has to take a worn route to access the city for her to get to the medical facility. She is quite familiar with journey with the fact that she has been on that route plenty of times. On this particular journey, she meets a hunter from the white community who aims a gun at her. However, she displays courage and explains that she has come across several guns before and hence was not afraid. At the clinic, she is not treated with respect with the view that she is among the charity cases. She gets the medicine and a windmill with the view that her grandson will be thrilled when he gets the windmill.

The story is told in a third person viewpoint to illustrate the aspect of perseverance and struggle throughout Phoenixs journey (Wright 56). Phoenix appears to struggle from the time the journey begins by which several situations appear that seem to prevent her from reaching her destination. At the beginning of the journey, Phoenix appears to be prepared for the challenges by which she arms herself with a walking stick to keep animals away (West 40). She keeps on switching at the animals that she imagines are in the woods with the view that she does not want anything to derail her from reaching her destination. She states, Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!. Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites.... Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don't let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way, (Welty 1).

Another challenge is exhibited when her skirt gets torn by a thorny bush by which she tries to entangle the skirt from the bush without causing much damage (Hagen 104). From her view, the thorns are doing their work as they keep holding her skirt. She also has to cross a river using a bridge which consists of a log by which she views it as her main trial. She closes her eyes while crossing the bridge and hence illustrating that she is courageous regardless of her old age (Hagen 104). The other challenge that she has to endure is going across a fence made of barbed wire and the incidence where she finds herself in a ditch (Septione 7). It can be perceived that by highlighting the challenges, that Phoenix went through, Eudora illustrates the challenges that some of the African American faced when trying to make changes in their lives (Garcia 45). The story was published in the year 1941 by which people from the African American community were viewed to belong an inferior race while the whites were viewed as superior (Garcia 45).

Perseverance is also illustrated by Phoenix not being addressed by her first name by the characters which also illustrates her position in the society (Pollack 12). The young white hunter addresses her as granny and the young woman who assists her to tie the laces on her shows addresses her as grandma. The hospital attendant addresses her as both a charity case and grandma. The nurse at the medical facility addresses her as Aunt Phoenix. It can be perceived that the other characters patronise Phoenix instead of respecting her as a woman and an older adult (Pollack 16). It can be perceived that Welty is illustrating the view that some African Americans at the time the story was written, were denied the aspect of individuality (Li-ying 33). Furthermore, the fact that the young white hunter pointed his gun at her indicates that the African Americans were exposed to aggression by which they had to exhibit courage and endure the aggression for them to survive (Pollack 16).

Another significant aspect is Phoenixs age. Dilgen explains that age is a significant aspect when it comes to her identity when she embarks on a journey for the love she had for her son and that she is part of an older age group when compared to the other characters in the short story (62). Dilgen highlights Phoenix remembering her background as per the assertion, I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,' she said in a soft voice. 'I'm an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming (Welty 5). She explains that the reader gets informed of her reality when going through the work by which Phoenix experiences disrespectful treatment because of her old age and possibly her race and economic status.

A good example that illustrates her position in the society is her encounter with the hunter who is described to be young, male and from the white community. The hunter points his gun at Phoenix and tells her, Well, Granny,' he said, 'you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I'd give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you (Welty 4). Phoenix also acknowledges the challenges that face old people by which she states, My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know (Welty 2). Nonetheless, Phoenix is not moved by the challenges but rather acts courageously.

The attitude of the hunter towards Phoenix illustrates the little insights of people who were more advantaged when compared to others. The hunter tells Phoenix, I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus! (Welty 3). From Dilgens viewpoint, the story allows the audience to comprehend the reality of Phoenix and her nature of showing care to other people and hence making her path worn. She states, This literary short story allows for meaningful discussion of how we see and interact with those of other generations, and of the complexities of their lives in specific historical context, (Dilgen 63).

Saunders views the whole story as a religious quest which is faced by plenty of challenges to gain redemption. The journey back to her Phoenixs grandson is compared to the return of the Magi after they have seen Christ. Phoenix is compared to the Magi in the Bible when they were following the star by which Phoenix follows the direction of the Windmill to access the town (Saunders 62). Also, her carrying the gift back to her grandson is compared to the gifts that the Magi were taking to Christ. Saunders includes the analysis that the story affiliated with the Eden story with respect to the arrangement of species with the snakes being avoided during summer, the division of the Red Sea when Phoenix goes through a corn field and heaven when Phoenix reaches the river and sees the lights of the city. Also, the attack by the thorns on her skirt is associated with the thorns put on Christs head like a crown. She is viewed to contain a sardonic form of humour in addition to a form of perseverance that Christ exhibited when faced with challenges (Saunders 62). Her act of closing her eyes when crossing the river using the log bridge illustrates her belief in the highest who will offer his protection during the trial (Saunders 63). The love that she has for her grandson can be compared to the unconditional love that God has for his creation. Phoenix is aware of the challenges that she will face throughout the journey and the fact that her age was a limitation, but still goes ahead to ensure that she gets medicine for her grandson (Lei-lei 17). Also, the unconditional love allows her to endure the challenges similarly to the way Christ persevered challenges due to his love for humankind and the desire to redeem it from sin (Westling 56).

As stated earlier, Eudora Welty, in the story, A Worn Path, uses the character, Phoenix Jackson to illustrate the aspects of perseverance, religious quest, and ageing for individuals from the African American community at a time when they were not fully accepted into the American society. Phoenix experiences plenty of challenges during her journey but still exhibits exuberance to reach the city and get her grandson the necessary medication. Some of the highlighted challenges include her skirt being attacked by thorns, having to cross the log bridge, her encounter with the hunter, crossing the barbed wire fence and being viewed as a charity case in the medical center. It can be perceived that the author uses the aspect of perseverance and struggle throughout Phoenixs journey to illustrate the challenges that African American individuals went through in a society that viewed them as inferior. The story is also viewed as a religious quest with which she is affiliated with Christs unconditional love, the journey of the Magi, and the division of the Red Sea.


Works Cited

Baker Jr, Houston A. Blues, ideology, and Afro-American literature: A vernacular theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Dilgen, Regina. "Addressing Ageism through Eudora Weltys A Worn Path." Radical Teacher, vol 98, 2014, pp. 62-63. University Library System, University Of Pittsburgh, doi:10.5195/rt.2014.52.

Hagen, Seth. "Traveling the Many" Crooked and Wide" Ways: Allegorical Beckoning in Eudora Welty's Losing Battles." Eudora Welty Review 4.4 (2012): 103-128.

Garcia, C., V. Young, and Charise Pimentel, eds. From Uncle Tom's Cabin to The Help: Critical Perspectives on White-authored Narratives of Black Life. New York: Springer, 2014.

Lei-lei, L. I. U. "Stylistic Analysis of a Worn Path." Legend Biography Literary Journal Selection 6 (2010): 017.

Li-ying, G. U. O. "The Historical Identity of American Southern Blacks in Eudora Welty's A Worn Path." Journal of Changchun Normal University (Humanities and Social Sciences) 7 (2010): 033.

Pollack, Harriet. "Reading Welty on Whiteness and Race." Eudora Welty, Whiteness, and Race (2013): 1-22.

Saunders, James Robert. A Worn Path: The Eternal Quest of Welty's Phoenix Jackson. The Southern Literary Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 1992, pp. 6273. JSTOR,

Septione, Pandu. The Theme of Resilience in Difficult Situation in Eudora Weltys A Worn Path. Diss. Sanata Dharma University, 2016.

Welty, Eudora. A Worn Path. Literature: A Portable Anthology. 3rd ed. Ed. Janet E. Gardner, et al. New York: Bedford/St. Martins 2013. 216-223. Print.

West, Elizabeth J. "Blackness as Medium." From Uncle Toms Cabin to The Help. Palgrave: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2014. 39-56.

Westling, Louise. Sacred groves and ravaged gardens: the fiction of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O'Connor. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2008.

Wright, Geoffrey A. "Eudora Welty's Photographic Ethics and Aesthetics: Th...

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