"A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty, is the tale of the unstoppable love and care
of a grandmother for her grandchild. It tells a story of sheer determination as Phoenix
Jackson makes a long journey into town to get medicine for her chronically ill grandson.
She strives forward despite frequent obstacles in her way that include her own failing
health and the grandchild's slim chance of survival. Phoenix Jackson is "an old Negro
woman" who continues forward over barriers that would not even be considered a
hindrance for the young. This is a journey which she has taken before, and now "the
time come around" she must travel it again. She begins her journey to town on "a
bright frozen day in the early morning" in December. Phoenix Jackson is "very
old and small ", and walks like the "pendulum in a grandfather clock" ever
so carefully with her "thin, small cane made from an umbrella."
The description of Phoenix Jackson at the beginning of this story gives the reader a
glimpse of how difficult this trip is going to be for an elderly woman such as her. The
description "Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin has a pattern all its own of
numberless branching wrinkles" are indications of Phoenix Jackson's old age. She
supports herself with a cane, striving not to fall with every step she takes. She wears a
"dress reaching down to her shoe tops" along with "an equally long apron of
bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket." This just adds to her difficulties.
As she begins her journey, she talks to herself and warns "Out of my way, all you
foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!...Keep out from under these
feet, little bob-whites", because as she says, "I got a long way." She is
determined to go down that path despite anything that might come between her and getting
the medicine for her grandson. This shows that her body may be worn out, but the attitude
that she takes and desire that she has in order to get the medicine for her grandson are
not. In addition, her shoelaces "which dragged from her unlaced shoes" adds to
the chance of her falling on the path.
First, she has to face an uphill climb. Then, she goes downhill but soon finds herself
tangled with a bush, and she does not want to rip her dress. She talks to the bush stating
"Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old
eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush" However, she manages to free herself
from the thorn bush. In addition, she faces a barbed-wire fence, which is not easy for
anyone, but she gets through, again telling herself that "she could not pay for
having her arm or her leg sawed off." At one point, she is startled by a stray dog
and falls into a ditch.
Eventually, a hunter and his dog happen upon her and pull her out of the ditch. He also
tries to prevent her from finishing her journey. He tells her that she is too old, and
even tries to scare her with his gun. At that point the man says, "you must be a
hundred years old, and scared of nothing...you take my advice and stay home, and nothing
will happen to you." Not even these words from the hunter could make Phoenix give up,
always getting herself out of a predicament, and having her grandson as a reason to keep
Walking across a log with her eyes closed is another daring thing she attempts. After
safely crossing she says "I wasn't as old as I thought." She sits down to rest
"when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it." When
old Phoenix reaches "to take it there was just her own hand in the air," and
nothing else around. Throughout the story, she exhibits signs of senility and delusions
including her meeting of a scarecrow which she initially thinks is a man.
When Phoenix reaches her destination, the reason for her mission is given. When she
enters "the big building", evidently a medical facility, she doesn't speak and
appears disoriented. A nurse recognizes her and inquires about her grandson who swallowed
lye two to three years ago. She asks "He isn't dead, is he?" Phoenix responds
with, "No missy, he not dead, he just the same." She tells the nurse "he
not able to swallow. He not get his breath. So the time come around, and I go on another
trip for the soothing medicine."
Phoenix Jackson encounters many adversities along her journey, but somehow manages to
get through them. Her perseverance in the face of tremendous obstacles is admirable
considering her age and declining health. This story reminds the reader over and over that
she truly loves her grandson, and that she is determined to overcome any obstacle to
achieve her goal. The only thing that keeps her from giving up is the love she has for him
and the fact that all they have in this world is each other.