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A Worn Path: Symbolism Essay



A Worn Path by Eudora Welty has been praised by readers since it was published, for its simplicity and its depth. Welty uses quite a tremendous amount of symbolism throughout the story which allows the reader to connect with the protagonist, Phoenix Jackson, the events that unfold and the journeys surroundings that take place in the story. The scenery that Welty wrote about is bursting with symbolism. This symbolism gives us insight into Phoenixs character, the poverty that she lives in, and the hardships that she has to continually go through--old age.

Welty is known to have cherished and be fond of mythological creatures, and is where she gets the name of the protagonist, Phoenix. In fact, the Phoenix is said to be a mythological firebird that lives 500 years and then dies, but rises again from its own ashes. This old woman represents the Phoenix, which shows that the protagonist keeps on living on in her old age and seems to have reborn from slavery, seems like there is chains about my feet (96). The way Welty describes the woods to have dark pine shadows (95), often being deep and still (95) and some even looking like dead trees (96) is the complete opposite of Phoenixs character. Although she may not be wealthy, she is very neat and tidy (95). And she is still very lively, because she is willing to go through this intricate journey yet again, and it also seems that Phoenix is very fond of life itself, since she talks to the animals in the forest, out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits... (95). Welty writes, her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black (95), which represents that she is still far from being dead. When Phoenix meets the scarecrow, another symbol for death, instead she dances with it, as if representing that death is not near. Phoenix is even able to joke at herself when she passes the trial, I wasnt as old as I though (96). The trip itself symbolizes Phoenixs determination and loving character that she is, because she continues to go through this thorny path and when she arrives to her destination she buys her nephew a paper wind-mill, instead of buying herself something to drink or eat.

Throughout the story there are many obvious inferences that show that Phoenix is poor. From her wardrobe, her head tied in a red rag (95) to the gift she buys for her nephew. When Phoenixs dress gets caught on a bush, her fingers were busy and intent (96) because she could not afford her dress to tear. This clearly shows that Phoenix cannot afford new dresses, so she must be extra careful with the things she wears. Another symbol that shows Phoenixs poverty is when she had to go through the barbed-wire fence. She crossed it particularly cautiously since she could not let her dress be torn now, so late in the day, and she could not pay for having her arm or leg sawed off if she got caught fast where she was. (96). Just before Phoenix arrives to the town, she stumbles upon a hunter, in which they have a brief conversation, and a dime falls out of his pocket. Phoenix notices and picks up the nickel as if she was lifting an egg from under a setting hen. But Welty gives a reassurance that Phoenix is not the stealing-type, because Phoenix recognizes that God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing (98). Once Phoenix arrives to town, it is filled with noise and red and green electric lights (98), symbolizing success. But when she arrives to the hospital, a nurse gives her five pennies (98), in which Phoenix buys her nephew a paper wind-mill for Christmas. This not only represents her kindness, but also the poverty she lives in.

Welty not only gives you an in depth story, but she also brings realism; the realities of being old. From the beginning of the story Welty informs the reader that Phoenix is indeed an old Negro woman (95). The way Welty describes Phoenixs skin as if she (Phoenix) is part of nature itself, 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 (95). It also symbolizes wisdom, since older people tend to be very wise, for they have lived and experienced life for many years. Even the smell of her hair is realistic to old age. As Phoenix is going through the path, she stops to sit down, and dazes off, while thinking about a little boy that is giving her a piece of marble cake. This shows that Phoenix is certainly hallucinating, which is quite normal for older people to do. Although Phoenix tends to hallucinate, when she arrives to the water and drinks it, it surely represents that Phoenix still has several years left to live. Another symbolism of Phoenix having more years to live is when she falls into the ditch. Phoenixs sense drifted away (97), and she raises her hand, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull (97). This perhaps represents God, looking down at her, but letting her know that her time is not up yet. Another harsh reality of old age is when Phoenix finally reaches to the hospital. Phoenix quickly forgets what the reason was for her to be there, but she remembers again when the nurse asks about her nephews condition. Showing that even simple word that has a lot of significance someone can defeat a deteriorating memory.

Finally, Welty in A Worn Path truly emphasizes natural symbolism, especially because it shows Phoenixs true character. The way Phoenix seems to be part of the nature that is all around, and her striving willingness to keep on living, while respecting the wildlife and doing the most extraordinary things for the person she loves. Not only Welty incorporate Phoenixs character, she also includes the poverty in which Phoenix lives in and the difficult age she is going through. Perhaps the windmill represents the cycle of life, and her name, Phoenix, represents that even when she dies, her nephew will live a lively life, such as she did.

Work Cited

Welty, Eudora. A Worn Path. Literature An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 4th ed.

Edgar V. Roberts. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2008. 95-100.

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