A Worn Path Eudora Welty
Appropriate use of symbolism adds meaning and depth to a story. It connects a story to its theme in a way that is guaranteed to engage a reader’s mind. There is more to “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty than just a story about an old lady who walks a great distance to get some medicine for her grandson. It is a story about love, hope, and racism. The writer uses symbolism to capture the struggles and rewards of life. It connects the reader to the main character’s battles and her efforts to overcome obstacles. This paper aims at pointing out the significant symbols in the story “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty. It also shows how each symbol reinforces the story’s central theme.
There is a significant reason why the writer chose to name her main character Phoenix Jackson. A phoenix is a mythical bird that is believed to burn itself to ashes, from which another young phoenix arises. The writer symbolizes Phoenix Jackson as the bird with her skin’s golden color, the red rag on her head, and the two illuminated knobs on her cheeks (Welty). She is strong, relentless, determined, and optimistic. She is willing to overcome all obstacles to achieve her goal. For that reason, she makes her journey time and again to get her grandson medicine for his throat without failure. A phoenix has to sacrifice itself for another younger bird to rise from its ashes. Just like the bird, Phoenix Jackson makes the sacrifice by walking a long way to the town in Natchez to get the medicine that her grandson needs to stay alive. She expresses her hope when she talks about how the suffering does not pull him back and how she believes that he will last. That is an expression of hope that her grandson will be the next Phoenix.
The worn path symbolizes the obstacles and challenges that Phoenix has encountered throughout her long life. She faces many obstacles on her way as she walks on trails of different forms with barriers like logs and a barbed-wire fence. That shows she has been able to overcome many constant difficulties in her life. In the third paragraph, she says, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!…. I got a long way.” (Welty). That shows that experience has made her aware of all possible dangers in a particular environment. However, she knows the essence of courage and the need to keep working towards her goal. Her most significant obstacle is the thorny bush that catches her skirt. Phoenix has to stop for a while to free herself without damaging her dress. That shows that she has faced life-changing events that have required her to strategize on how to overcome them. Through such problems, she has acquired excellent problem-solving skills and has learned the value of patience.
Welty describes Phoenix as an older woman with wrinkly skin and eyes blue with age (Welty). Her blue eyes are a symbol of depth and stability. Her wisdom, intelligence, and confidence manifest themselves during her encounter with a young white hunter. She faces him with confidence when he points his gun at her, an event that symbolizes racism. She also knows how to distract him so she can collect a nickel that falls out of his pocket. The young white man chasing the “big black dog that is not afraid” (Welty) is another symbol of racism.
Each nickel in the story is a unique symbol. The nickel that the white, young hunter drops is a symbol of hypocrisy and selfishness. At the time, a nickel is of little value. However, the white man denies having even a “single one that he can give to an old lady” (Welty). That proves his selfish and hypocritical nature. The second nickel is the one Phoenix receives from the attendant at the hospital. It is a symbol of generosity. The attendant hopes to help the old woman in the spirit of Christmas. In Phoenix’s hands, the nickels represent generosity, economic freedom, selflessness, and sacrifice. She has the right to buy whatever she wants, including a meal for herself in preparation for the journey back home. However, due to her selfless nature, she saves both nickels to buy a paper windmill for her sick grandson. She longs to amaze him by holding the paper windmill straight up in her hand as she presents it to him (Welty). The paper windmill is also a symbol of Phoenix’s hope that her grandson will use his energy to achieve things beyond his imagination. The windmill is made of paper to symbolize how delicate and short-lived hope can be.
During her journey, Phoenix rests under a mistletoe. That symbolizes her love for her grandson. The affection motivates her to take the long journey each time he needs throat medicine. It also represents seasons. The green mistletoe is surrounded by black trees whose leaves have shed. Among the lifeless trees, the mistletoe appears immortal and full of life. Phoenix shares similar characteristics. She seems old and delicate. However, despite her old age, she is strong, resilient, and determined to complete her journey. The slice of marble cake that Phoenix longs for while resting under the mistletoe symbolizes her unmet desires. It also represents the unsuccessful efforts to end racism and unite blacks and whites. Before the story ends, “there was a fixated and ceremonial stiffness over [Phoenix’s] body.” (Welty). She comes to live with “a flicker and then a comprehension across her face.” (Welty). That is a symbol of change. It signifies the end of one part of the journey and the beginning of another.
The story “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty is about love, hope, and racism. Welty uses symbolism unsparingly throughout the story to capture the struggles of life. That gives it a more profound and rich meaning that connects the reader to their struggles.
Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path”. The Atlantic, 1941, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1941/02/a-worn-path/376236/.
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