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A Worn Path by Eudora Welty

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Brad Hickman

Dr. Jones

English Composition II

28 March 2018

Phoenix’s Path

        In the short story, “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty describes the journey of an old black woman named Phoenix Jackson. Welty comes from the deep south, specifically Mississippi, which plays a part in giving the reader context and a setting. Phoenix is a strong, independent woman who goes out of her way to serve others, especially her grandson. He is bed-stricken with sickness, and Phoenix has to walk this path several times in efforts of getting her grandson some medicine. While Phoenix walks along the worn path, the reader finds out that her experiences are extremely symbolic throughout the story. She encounters several events on her journey that Welty uses in teaching the reader the meaning behind Phoenix Jackson’s experiences with human interaction, specifically a white male who does not express equality or respect based on her race. Welty uses old history, Phoenix Jackson, and the worn path as a symbol of a deeper meaning behind physical and spiritual journeys that relate to a Christian’s perspective on life.

        The Old South’s identity was found in racial prejudice, which followed some people, including victims, for many generations to come. The evil root in racism stems from a despicable heart issue, unlike anything Christ compels in Scripture. The Bible says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Inequality affected primarily to African Americans in the Old South, especially women. African American women were treated much differently in society, and mostly in a negative way in the Old South. They were held captive as slaves during the Civil War, and a lot was expected of them. However, they had no opportunity for education, or paid work. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation ended the “right” to slavery across the United States, racism followed the hearts of some wicked people that exercised this horrible idea.

On Phoenix Jackson’s journey to town to get her grandson some medicine, she encounters a hunter who happens to be Caucasian. During their entire conversation, his choice of words and actions never show respect. The hunter talks and acts like a racist individual for threatening her because of her race. For example, he willingly points a gun at her for no reason and says, “Doesn’t the gun scare you?” (Welty 7). This symbolizes the fear he is curious Phoenix will feel, which stems from a racist control factor that Caucasian, Southern people would use in oppressing the African American heritage. What is interesting about this incident is how Phoenix reacts. His racial undertone and threat does not frighten or phase Phoenix in the slightest. She does not take it personally, even after all of the years she has observed and experienced this type of oppression. “I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done” (Welty 7). This is also a prime example of how strong Phoenix Jackson portrays herself to be. The amount of strength and courage she has had to use over several generations speaks volumes about her character, specifically this incident. Phoenix uses encounters such as this in molding her character and what she chooses to be despite racial oppression and disrespect. Bloom writes that, “Christ demands that humans give more than what is asked of them and indicts the passive acceptance of another’s suffering as an active form of evil, as a sin of omission” (Bloom 57). Jackson willingly gives her life to her grandson’s medical care, and even risks what could have happened to her. Jackson did not anticipate this encounter, but she stood her ground and did not let the hunter disrespect get in the way of giving more effort for her grandson. Also, when Jackson does not succumb to fear, it is a critical point in the short story in realizing how Welty uses her personal experience with the hunter in conveying the spiritual and physical growth that comes from a situation like that. She shows a glimpse of strength and perseverance, while displaying Jackson’s resilient character in not succumbing to fear, which is a testament to believers in Christ.

Welty uses Phoenix Jackson as a symbol throughout the entire story that is quite similar to the mythological creature, a Phoenix. According to the New World Encyclopedia, one of the many symbolic meanings that the Phoenix has is described as “the resurrection from death as new and pure can be viewed as a metaphor for Christ's resurrection, central to Christian belief” (New World Encyclopedia). Phoenix’s character resembles Christ himself and His willingness in serving others. Similarly, Phoenix does whatever she can in providing her grandson with whatever he needs. “Phoenix Jackson, during her journey to town, symbolizes the walk of life that Christian believers go through as interpreted through biblical understanding and practice” (Kravchuk). She sacrifices her health and even her life on that worn path in efforts of providing care to her ill grandson back home. Galatians 5:13 says that “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Phoenix’s character most definitely sums up this verse because of her willingness to sacrifice herself for the greater good of others.

While Phoenix Jackson is willingly serving her grandson, her journey in getting there is never easy. She walks along this path on the way to get the medicine for her sick grandson. Her journey consists of many trials and tribulations that occur on this path, and even continue to follow her when she gets to the city. The path symbolizes a physical and spiritual journey that relates to a Christian perspective. Welty uses a plethora of events of how some obstacles Phoenix Jackson faces along this path have molded her as a person. For example, nature, from a physical perspective, is all around the path and provides Phoenix quite a challenge along her strenuous journey. She says, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals! Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites” (Welty 1). This path and the nature around it are symbolic to the Christian faith in terms of facing obstacles along a physical or spiritual journey. Obstacles stand in the way of all of mankind, because that is how life is supposed to test people. However, readers can learn from Phoenix and her character. When she encounters a thorny bush, she does not lose her temper or let that distract her from her goal of serving her grandson. The thorn bush symbolizes “the attraction and beauty of something that is actually dangerous” (Kravchuk). Phoenix said, “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass-no, sir, Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush” (Welty 2). This symbolizes what mankind can think is best for them, when it is actually quite the opposite. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.This verse also describes Phoenix’s ability in overcoming trials. Along the path, she had to cross the creek and face the trial of marching across a log. Keeping in mind she is very old, she definitely takes a leap of faith in accomplishing the challenge in front of her. Welty writes that Phoenix “mounted the log and shut her eyes” (Welty 2).  Phoenix faces many trials along the path that are symbolic to the challenges people face along the physical and spiritual journeys in life.

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