This paper focuses on two stories written by two writers during in the nineteenth-century period to explore differences or similarities in their writing. Specifically, the current paper compares and contrasts how Eudora Welty and Kate Chopin convey issues in their society by considering the use of language, themes, point of view, and characterization in A Worn Path and Regret respectively.
Critics have lauded Eudora Welty’s knack for creating art out of everyday experiences that touched her life. Indeed, most of Welty’s writing is the result of a resolute shaping imagination and a deep founded love and comprehension of carefully chosen language to conjure characters in dramatic motion (Warren, 1944). In A Worn Path, Welty replicates this mastery of language to tell the story of an elderly African American woman on a journey to the town of Natchez to get medicine for her grandson who was permanently injured after consuming lye. The old woman, Phoenix Jackson experiences various challenges on her journey including difficult terrain and an encounter with a dog that ends with her falling into a ditch and a white hunter who helps her out of the ditch. Despite these challenges, Phoenix is determined to get to Natchez and eventually makes it. Reading through the story, the reader can see that there is more to the story than just a narrative about an elderly woman’s journey to town (Welty, 1991).
Welty uses setting and literary devices to create depth in the story and relate to the reader issues occurring in her society at the time of writing. The story is set in the rural American south and in December, during winter. This setting conveys the difficultness of Phoenix’s task, she had to trek through thorny bushes, streams that must be crossed using logs, ditches, and encounters wild animals. These obstacles serve to demonstrate the strength of her love for her grandson and the sacrifice she makes for her grandson. In the final part of the story, the narrator says “her slow step began on the stairs, going down,” (Welty, 1991) indicating that Phoenix has to face another arduous return journey.
Welty tells the story using the third person limited point of view, which allows the reader to empathize with the main protagonist, since her actions and thoughts are portrayed. Further, from this point of view, Welty is careful to not disclose too much and allows the reader to remotely observe Phoenix and her experiences, and thus understand her as others view her.
In addition to the setting and point of view, Welty relies on a skillful use of language and symbolism to infuse action into the story and make it more realistic. An example of symbolism is the name of the main protagonist that references the mythical bird ‘phoenix’. In the story, Phoenix is dressed in vivid colors and her resilience is emphasized by the comparison to the mythological phoenix that resurrects form the ashes every five hundred years. Welty writes of Phoenix:
“A golden color ran underneath and the two knobs of her cheeks were illuminated by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag, her hair came down on her neck……When Old Phoenix walks, she resembles a giant bird: “She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks…. Every time she took a step she might have fallen over her unlaced shoes.” (Welty, 1991)
Phoenix’s path is surrounded by death, the earth is frozen, the season is winter and the trees are still. She comes across, being dead trees dead weeds, a scarecrow and a hunter with dead birds in his bag. Notably, even though she is surrounded by death, Phoenix does not die, rather she transcends beyond these obstacles to appear almost indestructible and immortal, similar to the phoenix (Cartwright, 2013, pp. 234-36). Welty also describes Phoenix’s grandson as ‘[wearing] a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird”(Welty, 1991, p.32). This symbolizes the fragility of phoenix’s grandson. In addition, the December setting reflective of Christmas time and is evocative of Christianity, heightens specific points regarding the meaning of Christmas. The story embodies the Christmas spirit that is the act of selflessness, giving, charity and doing for others. Notably, this is evident when the nurse describes Phoenix to the doctor, “She doesn ‘t come for herself…..A charity case, I suppose.” (Welty, 1991, p. 34).
Welty also uses similes to make vivid comparisons that allow the reader to create vivid metal pictures of the story’s events. Examples are seen when the narrator describes Phoenix’s face and cane. She writes “Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead…. her cane as being “limber as a buggy whip.” (Welty, 1991) Another example is when Phoenix walks across the log, where her appearance is described as being “like a festival figure in some parade.” (Welty, 1991)
Like any work of fiction, A Worn Path features conflict which is central to the thematic focus of the author. In the story, the main conflict is seen in Phoenix’s struggle against landscape and nature. The determination exhibited by Phoenix when she encounters the various challenges in her path are useful in defining her character for the audience. Other conflicts inherent in the story include her exchanges with the hunter and the nurse at the doctor’s office which show Phoenix’s dignity while faced by both age and racial discrimination. Through such conflicts, Welty demonstrates the challenges in the daily lives of individuals like Phoenix (Welty, 1991).
Similar to Eudora Welty, critics have described Kate Chopin as a feminist writer who uses a peculiar style of writing to evoke a strong emotional response in the reader. Chopin is known for her use of a dramatic style to propagate feministic rights and outlooks. According to Skaggs (1994), the common theme in Chopin’s literary works was to demonstrate “the intrinsic conflict between the traditional requirement that a wife form her life around her husband’s and a woman’s need for discrete personhood . . .” (Skaggs, 1994, p. 635). Essentially, Chopin seeks to convey the argument that women are continually in pursuit of self-realizations, and sexual experience plays a big role in this quest. In keeping with this distinction, the story Regret revolves around a female protagonist Mamzelle Aurelle, a spinster in her early fifties, who lives with her dog. One day Mamzelle is entrusted to take care of her neighbor’s (Odile) children, a task she finds difficult at first but gradually she begins enjoying taking care of the children and subsequently heartbroken when Odile takes them back (Chopin, 2013).
Similar to Welty, Chopin relies on the setting and a range of literary devices to convey her thematic ideas. Contrastingly, the story is set in the northern Louisiana and even though the author does not explicitly provide any indication of time, the reader can infer form the realistic description of the setting, that it is spring time. Chopin writes:
“the white sunlight was beating in on the white old boards; some chickens were scratching in the grass at the foot of the steps, and one had boldly mounted, and was stepping heavily, solemnly, and aimlessly across the gallery. There was a pleasant odor of pinks in the air, and the sound of Negroes ‘ laughter was coming across the flowering cotton-field’ (Chopin, 2013, p. 23)
Further, Chopin uses third person point of view which makes the story more objective and lets the reader into the internal thoughts of the chief protagonist. This way, Chopin conveys a strong sense of her character ‘s emotions and experience at explicit moments in time. Contextually, the story is written as a narration punctuated by numerous elements of description and dialogue. Narration is effective in informing the reader of the dynamic sequence of the story’s events.
With regard to language, Chopin uses speech characterization to offer the reader more grounds to make judgments regarding the characters in the story. For instance, the story is punctuated with bookish vocabulary like “determining upon a line of action”, “the apparent purpose” and “convulsive leave”. Further to renders a vivid description of the setting and characters, Chopin uses numerous syntactic devices, expressive means and lexical devices. Additionally, epithets are widely used in then story to render the atmosphere (‘disconsolate family’, ‘irresolute steps’, ‘glad voice of the children’) , provide a description of the main character (a critical eye, ruddy cheeks, a determined eye) and describe the kids (‘affectionate and exuberant nature’, ‘the chubby Elodie’) (Chopin, 2013).
Chopin also uses similes to describe Mamzelle’s initial attitude to the children when they are left in her care. She writes “… very small children who… might have fallen from the clouds, so unexpected and bewildering was their coming, and so unwelcome”. Another instance of simile: “the little one ‘s warm breath beating her cheek like the fanning of a bird ‘s wing” (Chopin, 2013), is used to show a change of heart in Mamzelle towards the children. Another literary device is the use of metaphors that perform crucial roles in the story, including describing the setting, describe the characters, and emphasize the change of heart in Mamzelle.
Lastly, similar to A Worn Path, Regret features an important conflict. However unlike the previous story, the conflict in Regret is internal occurring within the main character. In the story, Mamzelle struggles with herself or her own soul, deliberating on her physical limitations, her notion of right and wrong as well as her life choice.
In conclusion, despite being separated by time and geographical contexts and perspectives, Eudora Welty and Kate Chopin use similar linguistic devices including symbolism, similes, narration, and a third person point of view to highlight the plight of the human condition. The authors vary however in their thematic focus whereby Welty’s A Worn Path is focused on racism, resurrection, guilt, duty and responsibility while Chopin’s Regret Song explores feminism, solitude, gender conformity and children.
Cartwright, K. (2013). Sacral Grooves, Limbo Gateways: Travels in Deep Southern Time, Circum-Caribbean Space, Afro-Creole Authority. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Chopin, K. (2013). Delphi Complete Works of Kate Chopin (Illustrated). Newport, RI: Delphi Classics.
Skaggs, P. (1994). Kate Chopin: 1951-1904. In P. Lauter, The Heath Anthology of American Literature, 2nd ed. (pp. 635-37). Lexington,DC: Heath.
Warren, R. (1944). The Love and the Separateness of Miss Welty. Kenyon Review, 6, 246-259.
Welty, E. (1991). A Worn Path. New York: Creative Education.