Analysis of Phoenix Jackson in the Essay, "A Worn Path"

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The evaluation of a “Worn Path” has many meanings to it, and can be interpreted in many different ways. While some say it could be a metaphor for life, others may say it can be a literal description of the struggles of old age. In this literary analysis, however, James Robert Saunders focuses on displaying the background behind Phoenix Jackson and her motives to display that love and affection trumps all.

In the beginning of the article, Saunders expounds that Phoenix Jackson is like Moses and her grandson is like Christ. These Christian principles, in turn, fuel Jackson to complete her task. But this comparison only partially displays Phoenix’s motives. The author also explains the era is around 1865, where all of the slaves have been freed since the Union won the war. Vyry, a slave who shares similar character traits to Phoenix, stays and helps her master give birth whereas all of the other slaves have left their masters. In the same way, despite her grandson’s parents leaving him, Phoenix remains committed to taking care of him and bringing him his medicine, even though the journey is long and arduous. Both of these show the Christ-like qualities of consistent love and care.

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Next, Saunders expounds that Phoenix is a “gifted child of nature” which means nature ultimately benefits her journey, even if they seem like obstacles at first. When her skirt got caught on the thorny bush, it didn’t tear even though the spikes had enough force to rip it apart. When it was time for her to cross over the barbed-wire fence, she did so with ease. And after successfully crossing the wooden log across the river while being practically blind, nature opens up for her a trail left behind by wagon wheels. These types of unconscious assistance serve to help Phoenix complete her difficult journey, and without them she might have had a harder time going through with her task.

The final question, and perhaps the most important, question addressed for the reader was whether or not the grandson was really dead. From first glance, the description might seem to fit it; he was not breathing, could not open his eyes, could not do anything without assistance and this medicine he’s been taking is not helping out. However, as the author later notes, it doesn’t matter if the grandson is alive, because he doesn’t influence the “wornness” or the “difficulty” of the path. Instead, the emphasis should be placed on Phoenix and how her tenacity and persistence combined with her love and care enabled her to tackle this arduous journey. Since this is the main plot of the story, the best answer to the aforementioned question is, “Phoenix is alive.”

I feel like this article gave me a greater understanding of the story in general, because it introduces lots of comparisons and background information. With this background information, it is easier to see the motive behind Phoenix’s journey. It also helps me appreciate my life more, because Phoenix struggles with many difficulties herself- onset dementia, limited mobility, and limited eyesight. If a person like her can complete a trip with so many obstacles- walking across a river with cataracts, alligators, and scarecrows. etc, then we as students should have no reason not to persist in whatever endeavor we set our minds to.

Saunders, James Robert. “A Worn Path: The Eternal Quest of Welty’s Phoenix Jackson.” The Southern Literary Journal 25.1 (1992): 62-73. Web. 16 Sep 2015.

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