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Life is a journey – An interpretation of Eudora Welty´s “A Worn Path”
“A Worn Path” written by Eudora Welty was first published within her volume of short stories “A Curtain of Green” in 1941. It is a story about life in its purest naturalism.
Welty´s main character is the old Negro woman Phoenix Jackson. With her tremendous self-sacrifice and the love for her little grandson she frequently goes on an adventurous journey from the old Natchez Trace into town to get some medicine for her grandchild who swallowed lye some years ago and is frequently suffering from sore throat.
But more than one could think of the story is a metaphor for the way of life that everyone of us has to go. The story´s path expresses the hard journey of life – the journey, even Eudora Welty speaks about when being asked about the unsolved fate of the grandson: “But it is the journey, the going of the errand, that is the story, and the question is not whether the grandchild is in reality alive or dead.” This can be easily compared to the path of life and to the fact that it´s result is less important than the path itself.
Phoenix Jackson´s journey starts on “a bright frozen day in the early morning” in december. The “early morning” seems to be an indication for a new beginning of a journey that has been gone so many times before: simply “a worn path”.
Throughout the story the element of time plays an important role in the comparison to a human´s life. By this point of view the “early morning” expresses the new beginning of life and, what is even more important, Phoenix Jackson becomes the immortal.
The first vision of her appearance that the reader receives, is, when the “very old and small” Negro woman enters the story slowly walking on a path through pinewoods. She is wearing “a red rag” what indicates that she is living in poor conditions. Her missing grammatical skills refer even more to that fact as well as the circumstances in which Phoenix finally receives the medicine from the nurse: “The doctor said as long as you came to get it, you could have it”.
Welty emphasizes Phoenix as being a balanced and probably content person inside: ”moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock”.
Except some sort of absent-mindedness, Phoenix´ appearance is described as “neat and tidy”. Nevertheless, she turns out to be a child of nature – within her thinking and acting but also the way she looks. Her skin is marked by “numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead”.
These are visible symbols for the unseen naturalism inside of her. The “two knobs of her cheeks” that are “illuminated by a yellow burning under the dark” remind of a day´s sunset. Her black hair fragrant “like copper” and the wrinkles in her skin shining like a spider´s “net” are unequivocal signs of Phoenix being the true personification of nature.
When she is making her way through the forest the old woman pays her awareness, but also her respect, to the creatures of nature: “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!…” or some time later when she is encounting a buzzard “Who you watching?”. She has probably had some less good experiences with those creatures when she did this journey in former times and knows what she has to expect. That defines her as being very cautious and even reliable when she lets the reader know that she has not lost sight of her destination by uttering “I got a long way”.
The way Phoenix is orientating by the signs of nature expresses her missing contact to the process of civilization and her remarkable talent for observation. The passing mourning dove shows her that “it was not too late for him” and the sun being so high is associated by her with the time “getting all gone here”. Actually, it could also be the result of the numerous times she has done this journey, that in the meantime she is able to value every familiar condition.
She knows every spot of the way so well that she could do it in her sleep. Like a self-motivation she comments on the forthcoming parts of the hard journey: “Up through pines”, “Now down through oaks” or some time later as she is faced with a log: “Now comes the trial” as if to remind herself of the reason for this struggle – her little suffering grandson.
 Kreyling, Michael. Understanding Eudora Welty. Columbia: University of Southern Carolina
Press, 1999. 6.
 Welty, Eudora. “Is Phoenix Jackson´s Grandson Really Dead?” The Story and Its Writer – An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Shorter 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin´s Press, 1990. 750.
 Isaacs, Neil D. “Life for Phoenix”. The Critical Response to Eudora Welty´s Fiction.
Ed. Champion, Laurie. Westport, Conneticut, London: Greenwood Press, 1994. 40.
- Quote paper
- Franziska Höfer (Author), 2002, Life is a journey - an interpretation of Eudora Welty´s "A Worn Path", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/19869