“A Worn Path” is a story that explains the natural symbolisms of the surroundings. As the story begins, we are introduced to Phoenix Jackson; she is described as a small, old Negro woman. I believe Phoenix Jackson’s name is very symbolic. The legend of the Phoenix is about a sacred bird of ancient Egyptians. The bird is said to come out of Arabia every 500 years to Heliopolis, where it burned itself on the altar and rose again from its ashes, young and beautiful. Phoenix, the women in the story, represents the myth of the bird because she is described as being elderly and near the end of her life.
Phoenix can hardly walk and uses a cane made of an old umbrella to aid her. Her skin is described as old and wrinkly, but yet with a golden color running beneath it “Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath”(469). Her skin tone represents the golden feathers of the Phoenix and her grandson represents the next Phoenix that will be given life when she dies. The trip to the city to get the medicine represents the mythological trip that the Phoenix takes to the sun to die.
Most likely this journey along a worn path through the woods will be one of her last. The story tells us of Phoenix’s journey into the woods on a cold December morning. Although we know that she is traveling through woodland, the author doesn’t ever explain the reason for this journey. During Phoenix’s travels, the author describes the scene: “Deep, deep the road went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live-oaks met and it was as dark as a cave” (Welty 472). The gloomy darkness that the author has created in this scene seems quite opposite to the positive outlook and determination that Phoenix Jackson has as a woman.
As Phoenix begins to walk down the dark path, a black dog approaches her. As he comes toward her, Phoenix is startled and determined to defend herself: “She only hit him a little with her cane; over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milk-weed” (472). Here, the author seems to compare Phoenix’s strong will with her weak body. When the black dog comes out of the bushes and rushes her, he knocks her over into a ditch where she is unable to get up without help. She can barely negotiate the path,: “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far. (470) this is a symbol for slavery during those times. She talks to herself along the way, and to the animals. We also get reminded of her old age because she seems to forget her purpose for her journey at times. During the course of her journey, Phoenix is visited several times by dreams. One time, a boy comes to her offering a piece of marble cake. There is no marble cake for her, and there is no one there to grab her hand and pull her out of the ditch. The marble cake seems to be symbolic of the blacks and whites trying to get along together, to blend in the south in the 1930s and 1940s.
Phoenix reaches her hand out twice, first to accept the cake and then to receive help getting up, and both times, nothing is there. The dream of racial harmony is not yet realized, yet Phoenix keeps reaching for it. As Phoenix is lying in the ditch, “A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull. ” (Welty 472). She then begins to talk to herself, which she does quite frequently throughout her journey. The author is trying to show us just how lonely and frightened Phoenix had become.
While she lay in the ditch talking, Phoenix refers to herself as “old woman. ” At a number of times throughout the story, Phoenix refers to herself as old. Although we are reminded regularly of her old age, it is clear that Phoenix could still have many years ahead of her. After a short while, Phoenix is helped: “A white man finally came along and found her-a hunter, a young man with his dog on a chain” (473). The white man asks Phoenix what she is doing in the ditch, and she replies “Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be turned over, mister” (473) as she reaches out her hand.
When Phoenix refers to herself as June-bug on its back, she is letting the hunter know how helpless she is. The hunter then lifts her up and makes sure she is okay. The hunter and Phoenix begin to chat and the hunter asks her if she is on her way home. When Phoenix replies that she is on her way to town, the hunter discourages her by telling her that it is too far. He also tells her that when he makes the journey into town, he at least would “get something for my trouble” (473). The hunter automatically assumes that Phoenix has no reason for going into town, and no money to purchase anything once she arrives in town.
Phoenix shows her determination by telling the hunter “I bound to go to town, mister, the time has come around” (474). When she tells him that the time has come around, we now know that there is a purpose for behind this journey. The hunter then tells Phoenix that he assumes she must be going into town to see Santa Claus. The author describes Phoenix’s face: “The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation” (473). We then assume that Phoenix is upset by this statement. Not until we continue to read on do we find the true reason for Phoenix’s reaction. Without warning she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man’s pocket onto the ground” (473). The hunter and Phoenix continue their conversation when the dogs begin to fight. As the hunter chases after the dogs, Phoenix slowly begins to reach down towards the shiny nickel. When the nickel is finally in her apron pocket, she sees a bird fly by and says to herself “God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing” (Welty 474). When Phoenix says this, it shows us that she really is a good person, and that she does have a conscience. The man returns and points his gun at Phoenix.
Immediately we assume that the hunter has seen Phoenix stealing his nickel, even though the author never states whether the hunter saw Phoenix pick up the nickel or not. The hunter asks Phoenix if the gun scares her, she replies “No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done” (474). It is evident that whether or not the hunter did see her take the money, Phoenix thinks he did. The hunter then smiles, puts the gun away and says, “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” (474). I believe that this line represents a change that has occurred within the hunters mind. He no longer is trying to prevent her from her journey, while he still tells her to stay home; he knows she is bound to continue her journey. He realizes how strong her will is and lets her go on her way. “I bound to go on my way, mister” (474) Phoenix tells the man, and they both go on their way. Strength is the only reason Phoenix accomplished her journey and Phoenix’s love for her only living relative is her greatest strength of all.
Although the old Negro woman suffers from many handicaps, she starts her journey mentally prepared for the obstacles awaiting her. Phoenix uses her inner strengths and prevails over every obstacle. She relies on her trustworthy feet to make up for her impaired vision. Her attitude makes up for her frail body. Her determination makes up for her aged memory, but most of all, the love for her grandson keeps her going. It becomes obvious that the frail, forgetful, and loving old woman can overcome any barrier.