Willa Cather’s short story “Paul’s Case” tells the story of a young boy, Paul, drifting through life without a sole purpose. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty illustrates the journey of an older, African American woman, Phoenix Jackson, seeking to find help for her grandson. Although these short stories depict the life journey that each character takes and the struggles each encounter, their stories are much different. Their personalities, determination, and ability to persevere vary immensely between the two stories. Paul and Phoenix Jackson differed greatly in all aspects of life.
Paul and Phoenix’s personalities contrast in various ways between the two short stories. Paul is very controversial with everyone around him. His father, teachers, and employers see him as a bad case and detest his nonchalant spirit. His teachers feel “his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower” (Cather, 243). Many are bothered by his insensible vibe. In opposition to Paul, Phoenix has a way with people. She uses what she has to her advantage. Several of the people she met along the way merely see her as an old lady or as a “charity case” (Welty, 226). However, after each encounter, the individuals she meets realized she is much stronger than they believed. While Phoenix is looked at as a helpless older lady, Paul is viewed as a menace to society. No one believes that Paul can be anything more than a problem child. Paul spends his last breath full of regret, realizing “the vastness of what he had left undone” (Cather, 258). He realizes the life ahead of him that he will not get to experience because of his hasty decision. Unlike Paul, Phoenix has no regrets, she makes every decision she makes without looking back and deals with things as they come.
Determination, or the lack thereof, is an important factor in the lives of Paul and Phoenix Jackson. Paul has no set goals; he likes the exterior of the actor’s lives but is unwilling to understand that their lives involve much more than what is perceived onstage. He does not acknowledge that they put in work in order to be where they are or that they endure everyday struggles. He is fascinated by the elaborateness of things but is not willing to put forth any effort to make things happen for himself. He does not desire to be a musician or an actor, or anything; what he wants is “to see, to be in the atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after league, away from everything” (Cather, 250). Phoenix Jackson, on the other hand, is willing to do whatever in order to get medicine for her grandson. She faces many obstacles but refuses to let anything get in her way. The only thing Paul is passionate about is New York. However, he is not passionate enough to find an honest mean to get there or to stay.
Paul varies from Phoenix greatly when it comes to perseverance. Phoenix is never thrown off her game when she is presented with obstacles; she is not easily shaken or made to be afraid. Even when the man points the gun straight at Phoenix, she is not disturbed stating, “I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, for less than what I done” (Welty, 225). She has lived through so much that nothing bothers her at this point. In opposition to Phoenix, any time Paul feels he will face opposition, he goes out of his way to avoid it. Paul cannot even face up to his father after coming home late, nonetheless after his escape to New York. Paul does not have the determination to persevere. As soon as Paul finds himself in a predicament he goes to the extreme and takes his own life. Phoenix even perseveres chronologically. She lives to see old age, outliving nearly everyone around her; Paul will not even make it to his college years.
“Paul’s Case” and “A Worn Path” highlight the lives of two distinctly different characters, Paul and Phoenix Jackson. Their personalities vary as well as their determination and ability to persevere. Because of these factors, Phoenix lives a long, adventurous life while Paul leaves this world without any accomplishments. Analyzing their characters bring back very different results.