Inspiration Through Storytelling: Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”

Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” is a heartwarming and inspiring narrative. Welty takes readers on a dangerous, vulnerable, slightly thrilling, and heartening journey that works to remind people of the power of limitless and unconditional love. Welty illustrates this through Phoenix Jackson’s trip to acquire crucial medicine for her sickly grandchild—he is also the sole incentive for making the journey, yet this is not the point of the story. Although the purpose of the story at first seems uncomplicated because it appears to be a short errand, it is quickly revealed through the backstory and details Welty provides that the errand is one of a love that is unwavering and will never die out. While such a concept may appear unrealistic, of idealistic, in real life, the initial scene Welty provides—a poor, elderly, and sickly grandmother in tattered clothes with a makeshift cane walking in cold weather—helps readers realize it is not so far from real life as it may seem. Welty reveals the power of love through Phoenix Jackson’s bravery and determination—she tells of an inspiring story that illustrates the concept that love is a habit and that love is so penetrating that it can break through all the human emotions that tend to destroy one’s happiness.

As the reader dives deeper into the story, it becomes clear that the many occurrences Phoenix confronts on her trip are somewhat representations of real-life occurrences. Welty portrays a lifetime’s journey through the scope of a particular situation where Phoenix Jackson walks a long and worn path to help with her grandchild’s sickness. Welty explains in her essay that the “adventures” she created for Phoenix on her way to getting the medicine had the purpose of truly representing a journey, a life’s journey, which is infused with uncertainty and many of the human emotions that people come across in real life. “A Worn Path” is an uplifting story that is meant to remind people that such an endless love can exist and it is more powerful than fear of death, confusion stemming from old age, or difficulty doing the things one once had no trouble doing. All the adventures and feelings Phoenix comes across on her trip work to ensure readers that the love that is promised in Welty’s story through Phoenix is extremely powerful and important in order for a relationship to thrive.

Through Phoenix’s situation, Welty demonstrates multiple important concepts that work to explain the meaning of the story, which can be deduced to that Phoenix’s trip was one she made to “aid in life, not death.” In addition to illustrating love’s power, she explains the concept that love is a habit. While this idea may, for some, seem to need to include questions about human nature, such complications do not have to be part of this concept because the habit of love is what people forget to accept when they begin to think about such questions about the universe, or human nature perhaps, that humans simply can’t answer. Welty took this idea about love and carved it to fit into a heartening story that is much easier for readers to appreciate, as opposed to the endless conversations about “good versus bad.” To further express this, Welty writes that Phoenix simply knew where to go because her feet told her—as if it was habit. By saying that her bravery and determination in making the trip was simply a habit, it helps explain that it is not something to idealize or be afraid of because it is already ingrained in us.

The question that Welty attends to in her essay is whether the grandchild is dead, yet when the real meaning of the story is interpreted, it can be deduced that the answer to this will not change the reason for writing the story. Welty elaborates by saying that her answer to the question is simply that Phoenix is alive—and that is all that matters. While humans tend to find horror and death entertaining, in a story about unquestionable love, there is no space for such concepts, and this is because I believe Welty did not solely write the story to entertain, but to illustrate as best she could what beauty humans are capable of. Welty writes in her essay, “…the question is not whether the grandchild is alive or dead. It doesn’t affect the outcome of the story or its meaning from start to finish.” Although the story Welty wrote is a short story, and obviously much is most likely reduced to satisfy margins of paper and limits on length, Welty manages to refrain from making Phoenix seem as if she is rushed, yet readers know that she will not turn back from her task. According to Welty, Phoenix, no matter what confronts her, will always get the medicine for her grandchild as long as she is able to.

Welty’s main argument explains that her path is what’s important, hence the title which s meant to illustrate that the many times she has walked the path and the many times she will walk it are what’s important in the story. The grandchild is the incentive for making the trip, yet by the end of the story, most can realize that his presence is not even required because Welty has made it quite explicit she will always make the trip. This particular idea is what invalidates the possibility that the grandchild needs to be alive in order for Phoenix’s trip to be meaningful and inspiring. Someone who wants to do something for someone else, and who is sincerely happy to do it, would not concern themselves with the outcome because it is not what is important. Welty attempts to illustrate this reality through Phoenix—and she is successful in explaining on paper the power of a profound love.

Symbolism in “A Worn Path”

Life is filled with different twists and turns, unexpected obstacles, and experiences never forgotten. Eudora Welty writes A Worn Path with a sense of symbolism that captures the struggles and pleasures of life. Welty uses symbolism as a bridge to connect the reader to their own inner battles and give A Worn Path a deeper meaning than that of an old lady walking through the woods. Phoenix Jackson is an older woman and is the main character of this short story, whose ragged clothing and wrinkled face shows that her life has been nothing but unforgettable experiences.

The thorn bush is one the first symbols that appears in the short story. Phoenix gets caught on the bush and instead of letting it hold her back on her journey, she continues to push through. Among the people that Phoenix Jackson meets along her trip, one of the more significant ones would be the young, white hunter with the black dog. The dialogue he uses with Phoenix Jackson is notably different than that that she uses with the people she meets in town, and he has an impression on her that hints towards her life and how she grew up.The third symbol is the paper windmill Phoenix Jackson buys for her grandson. While a minor symbol, it ties together the entirety of the story using simplistic symbolism to signal how selflessness is one of the keys to Phoenix Jackson’s lifestyles. In Eudora Welty’s A Worn Path, Wetly uses minor symbols and significant characters to make an impression on the reader as they learn more about Phoenix Jackson and her lifestyle choices. Welty uses a thorn bush, a young hunter and his dog, and a paper windmill to tie together the idea that life is filled with all sorts of experiences that will shape your life in one way or another, no matter how major or minor they might be.

While walking on her journey into town, Phoenix Jackson gets her dress caught on a bush. She takes her time untangling herself from the thorns, and explains to herself that the thorns are “just doing what they were made to”. The thorns on this bush symbolize the struggles that Jackson has faced throughout her life, or that everyone experiences at one point or another. When she mentions that the thorns are doing what they were made to do, it shows the reader that even the most inconvenient of times are meant to happen the way they do for one reason or another. “Old eye thought you was a pretty little green bush”, says Jackson as she sits on the ground to untangle her skirt from the thorn bush. This phrase signals to readers that even though she expected an experience to be pleasant, things do not always happen as anticipated. The thorn bush is an obstacle that Phoenix Jackson must overcome in order to continue her journey. Though it is a small part of the story, the thorn bush is a major role in Phoenix Jackson’s journey because it symbolizes that not all obstacles appear to be trouble at first, or are more trouble than they need to be.

The young hunter with his dog comes during Phoenix Jackson’s journey and it is important to note that Welty points out his race: white. This brings in a number on conversations about the dialogue the hunter uses with Jackson and how it symbolizes race issues. The hunter comes across Phoenix Jackson, or “Granny” as he calls her, with his dog while she’s in a creek. He sees that she is old and more than likely lost. The dialogue changes into a more assertive tone between the two when the hunter realizes how old and what race Jackson is. She might be crazy or homeless because of how ragged she is dressed. “Well, Granny,” he said, “you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you”. Jackson confirms with the hunter that she has been around violence in her day, confirming that this symbol links back to racial issues and disturbances in the story. With Jackson being old enough to not say her age, this shows that she has experienced much of history.

The paper windmill is the last and smallest symbol that symbolizes life on Phoenix Jackson’s journey down A Worn Path. The paper windmill is bought with two nickels, all Jackson has left of her money. She buys it for her grandson, who she made the journey for. The paper windmill symbolizes selflessness and generosity that should be given during a persons lifetime. Jackson went far out of her way and into town to purchase this paper windmill for her grandson with the last bit of money that she had. It shows that she cares more about her grandsons happiness than she does about how tedious and hard the journey might be, especially for someone her age. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand”, says Jackson in one of the last paragraphs in the story. This quote proves that she is more concerned about pleasing her grandson and making sure he is entertained than she is about taking such a long journey away from home. While he thinks she went to go retrieve medicine, she will come back and surprise him with a gift.

Symbolism is seen throughout the entire short story of A Worn Path by Eudora Wetly. However, some of the more important ones handle issues such as obstacles, race, and happiness. The thorn bush symbolizes how life contains obstacles that are difficult, tedious, and sometimes hidden or masked. Jackson talks to the bush mentioning how she did not even see the thorns, and that is what makes them such an obstacle. The young, white hunter and his dog symbolize race issues that Jackson had experienced during her long life. Jackson is old enough to have seen violence in her neighborhoods growing up and the young hunter does not want any trouble for her so he demands her to go home and stay out of the way. The paper windmill symbolizes how love and happiness can overcome any obstacle in life that Jackson has to overcome. Despite a long journey for Jackson, the happiness that it would ultimately provide for her grandson made A Worn Path worth traveling. All of these symbols show how life is filled with different experiences and opportunities. Phoenix Jackson has made the most of her life through her worn and ragged looks described at the beginning of the story. Welty uses these symbols to show the trials and tribulations of life.