A Selfishness, Moral Act
Eudora Weltys A Worn Path tells the story of Phoenix Jackson, an elderly black, woman who struggles to once again travel a difficult passage through the country into town for her ill grandsons medicine. Her determination is remarkably overwhelming throughout the story. Within Eudora Weltys short story, A Worn Path, it uses point of view, setting, character, and symbol to reveal the theme of virtue in giving unselfishly and making true sacrifices.
Through Phoenixs love and unselfishness as an inner-constraint, one can only imply she portrays selective omniscience. In the story, Phoenix Jackson demonstrates this by making the a long journey to retrieve her ill grandsons medicine, even though she is old and frail. Yet, she still manages to make it to the hospital. While she is getting the medicine, she expresses to the nurse about her feelings for her grandson, when she said, my little grandson, he sit up therein the house all wrapped up, waiting by himself. We is the only two left in the world (69). Phoenix truly shows without a doubt how giving unselfishly and making true sacrifices is not just a must but a pleasure to do.
According to, Ellen C. Wynn, the author of the book, The Short Story: 25 Masterpieces, strength is the only reason Phoenix accomplishes her journey and Phoenixs love for her only living relative is her greatest strength of all(Wynn 287). Although, Phoenix was an elderly, woman who suffers from many handicaps, she starts her journey mentally prepared for the obstacles awaiting. Phoenix uses her inner strengths and prevails over every barrier(288). Phoenix relies on her trusty feet to make up for her impaired vision and her wit for her frail body. Her determination makes up for her aging memory, but most of all her love for her grandson helps keep her going. As, Ellen C. Wynn states, Clearly, the frail, forgetful, and loving old, woman can overcome anything (289).
The story openly reveals Phoenix Jacksons journey on a cold December morning, in which she also encounters various instances that indicate Christmas time. With this in mind, a particular episode occurs when she encounters a white hunter who appears friendly at first by helping her out of the ditch, but then he makes a contradictory statement about why she is going to town. The hunter says, I know you old colored people! Wouldnt miss going to town to see Santa Claus!(67) Furthermore, as she resumes her long journey into town, she sees red and green electric lights strung and crisscrossed everywhere. Once, Phoenix reaches her destination at the hospital, the attendant restates its Christmas time, by saying, Its Christmas time, Grandma. Could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?(69) Phoenixs long travel during Christmas time exemplifies the true virtue of giving unselfishly.
According, to Ellen C. Wynn, the author of the book, The Short Story: 25 Masterpieces, she conveys a different approach by stating, the hunter is guilty so much of deliberate racism as of simply failing to comprehend the dire necessity of Phoenixs mission, mistakenly believing she is merely going to see Santa Claus(Wynn 289). Which Wynn, merely implies Phoenix marks the completion of another stage in the cycle of bondage and freedom. Yet, much like the incident with the hunter, Phoenix reiterates here, that conflicts are just stones in the road, obstacles in the path ( 292).
Phoenix Jackson is the protagonist of the story. As a round character, Eudora Welty describes her as a small, elderly, black woman, who endures countless struggles as she journeys to retrieve medicine for her sick grandson. The author depicts her age by the way she moves and by the wrinkles on her face which form a pattern all its ownas though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead(64). Phoenix Jackson views the Natchez Trace as an obstacle course, one that she struggles against fatigue, poor eye sight, and numerous obstacles. Yet, she maintains a sarcastic sense of humor; she tells the animals to stay out of her way. After her dress is caught in a bush, she tells the thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir (65 ). For example, Phoenix mistakes a scarecrow as a dancing man in the field because of her poor eyesight. Despite her frailty, her determination to continue on her journey indicates her concern for someone elses sake and her sacrificing nature.
In the magazine ANQ, David J. Piwinski, the author, states that Phoenix Jackson is indeed a protagonist of the story. After, she struggles up a hill, removes herself from a thorn bush, and crossing a log over a creek, Phoenix Jackson age not only plays a factor, but also the many obstacles on her journey (Piwinski 40). Piwinski states, that Phoenix realizes that, the importance of the trip far exceeds the possible harm that can be done to her brittle frame ( 41).At a number of points throughout the story, Phoenix refers to herself as old. Although we are reminded regularly of her old age, it is clear that Phoenix still has many years ahead of her. David J. Piwinski, says, the author brings realism into the story by frequently describing the realities of old age ( 42).
Therefore, he characterizes Phoenixs determination by, no other than self-sacrificing devotion , and persistence to her ailing grandson in overcoming numerous difficulties on her journey.
The title A Worn Path, within itself symbolizes a great deal as well as the name Phoenix Jackson within this short story. The path Phoenix takes is not one that she is not familiar with, which interprets why the title of the story is A Worn Path. For example, in the story, she comes to the foot of the hill where there is a log laid across the creek; she says to herself, Now comes the trial (65). With this in mind, she puts her right foot out, she mounts the log, and shuts her eyes, which shows her knowledge of traveling this path. Also, during the brief conversation with the nurse, at the hospital, in town shows Phoenix indeed continuously travels this path. In the story, the nurse implicates her grandsons condition, by asking her, throat never heals, does it?(69), she also shows Phoenix a card with something written on it , and says Yes, swallowed lye. When was it?-January-two-three years ago?(69) Therefore, this verifies Phoenix indeed, has taken this worn path before. When it comes to Phoenix Jackson, her name has a symbolic link with the mythological bird who rises from its own ashes to begin another cycle of life. The old womans name suggest timelessness and the fact she can never be suppressed, even by the obstacles in the story, to try to break her spirit. Old Phoenix says, Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animal!.Keep out from under these feet, little non-whitesKeep the big wild hogs out of my path. Dont let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way (65). Therefore, Phoenixs inner spirit echoes the determination to complete her journey.
The worn path, according to Dennis J. Sykes, Weltys The Worn Path, in the Explicator, symbolizes the natural symbolism of the surroundings itself. The term, worn, by definition is something damaged by long or hard wear or use; tired and drawn. With this in mind, Sykes incorporates how Phoenix was able to close her eyes when she mounts the log to cross the river, with no worries what so ever. The title therefore, emphasizes Phoenixs continuous rituals backwards and forward (Sykes 151). Also, he goes on to tell how significant the name Phoenix Jackson is. For example, the term Phoenix, is a mythological bird that dies and is reborn from its own ashes ( 152). This is a very symbolic name for the grandmother as it strongly emphasizes here determination throughout her journey. 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 legend of the Phoenix is able a fabled scared bird of ancient Egyptians, that is said to come out of Arabia every 500 years to Heliopolis, where it burned itself on the altar and rose again, form ashes young and beautiful (153) . Phoenix, represents the myth of the birth because she is described as being elderly and close to the end of her life. She also symbolizes charity. Phoenix can hardly walk and uses a cane made of an old umbrella to aid her: Under her small black-freckled hand her cane limber as buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things(156).
An unselfish sacrifice is thinking only of others, and putting self behind. This is an inner manifestation of love shown outwardly by action and determination that lets no obstacles see or unseen interfere with the known goal. Therefore, it is safe to say life, itself becomes a worn path which is constantly traveled. In Phoenix Jackson, this would be called GRANNYS LOVE.