A Worn Path analysis research paper
Eudora Welty's short story A Worn Path is an interesting work, full of symbolism. It explores a number of themes through the simple story of an elderly black woman in 1940s Mississippi, walking along an arduous path to town to collect medicine for her grandson. Along the way she encounters various obstacles and interactions with others.
The protagonist of the story is Phoenix Jackson, who lives alone with her sick grandson. The plot concerns her journey along the worn path of the title and the events of that journey. Welty narrates it in an extremely direct way, with no interpretations or commentary added. It is entirely up to the reader to work out what each encounter symbolizes.
The main theme of the story is endurance. Jackson's name itself signifies rebirth, rising from the flames. Despite her age and obvious infirmity she makes the difficult walk along the path, and none of the obstacles in her way stop her. While sometimes dependent on help from others she is determined to keep going. Her conversation with the nurse at the end, and other indications, make it clear that she has made this trip many times and intends to keep doing so as long as necessary.
The racism still prevalent in the South at the time is clearly evident throughout the story. When Jackson falls in a ditch and has to be helped up by a white hunter he mocks her, assuming that "old colored folk" have no serious reason to go to town and casually threatening her with his gun as a heavy-handed joke. Tired, Jackson says to herself that she feels as if she has chains on her legs, a reference to the slavery that a very old woman might remember.
Jackson's journey can be seen as the quest for racial equality by southern blacks. When the hunter helps her it is without respect; he is willing to lift her out of the ditch, but doesn't see her as an equal. Jackson experiences dreams along her way; first she dreams that she sees a slice of cake, then later, in the ditch before the hunter arrives, she sees someone come to help her. Both times she reaches out her hand and there is nothing there. Perhaps this symbolizes her dreams of racial equality; when she reaches the hospital at the end of her quest the nurse patronizes her and calls her "Auntie."
Because of its narrative style this story can be read on many levels; as a symbol of one person's determination, as an allegory for the challenges faced by minorities or even as a religious tale. It's well worth a read just for the vivid images it creates.