Eudora Welty’s Presentation of an Old Woman’s Experience as Depicted in Her Book, A Worn Path
A Long Image Filled Journey
The story “A Worn Path” is one filled with beautiful imagery of an old woman’s journey to get medicine for her grandson. Upon the first read the story seems relatively straightforward. The story doesn’t take upon a larger meaning until it is reread repeatedly, then things that someone may have never noticed initially start to come forward. Such as that the journey miss phoenix goes through to reach town may represent more then a long walk in the forest, this path may represent her life being a slave and her journey to freedom.
First Eudora Welty uses a thorn bush to form a giant metaphor for slavery and how it held down the people it held captive. Phoenix’s path begins simple enough but quickly into it an obstacle comes along that may very well relate to her life beforehand as a slave. This obstacle is the thorn bush, that she mistakes for just an ordinary bush, in her way and takes no precaution when passing through it. Soon she learns that the bush is filled with thorns and becomes entangled in its grasp. While trying to untangle herself she keeps on getting further trapped but is unwilling to rip her skirt to be free. The thorn bush and her entanglement in it represents her entrapment in slavery before she was freed. After all, as a slave she was caught in the grasp of its social standing that was forced upon her, and even if she did try to free herself from its grasp in any number of ways something else would come along and re-snag her. Just like with the thorn bush continuing to tangle in her skirt. Yet what’s most interesting about her interaction with the thorn bush is her unwillingness to tear her dress. Which may very well relate to her unwilling to bring great harm to herself to be freed from slavery. After all there were some slaves that would give their life for a taste of freedom, but Phoenix does not seem like the type. Instead she treasures her life and takes her time knowing eventually she will be free.
Then Welty uses the setting itself of a wire fence and some dark trees to create the image of slaves trapped within the grounds of their masters property. Phoenix must cross under the wire fence quickly in order to not get caught before coming upon a forest of dark trees and a vulture standing watch. Among the two the fence may have the more obvious connotation to Phoenix’s past as a slave. After all, if she did attempt to escape she would have to pass under fences and through harsh trails to eventually be free. And if she got caught she would be horribly punished just like she might be for crossing under a stranger’s fence if she was ever caught. Phoenix even mentions she might lose an arm or leg if she’s not careful and gets caught, which would most likely happen to some degree if she was caught trying to escape as a slave. Although it is not the fence alone in that moment that relates to her past. There is also the forest she sees once she is out from under the fence. Miss Phoenix describes the trees as “Big dead trees, like black men with one arm” (Welty, 315). These trees more than likely represent her fellow slaves and the description almost seems to bring images of black men worn down through time. Then there is the vulture siting upon one of the trees seeming to watch over everything. The vulture brings upon imagery of a warden of the slaves making sure none escape and go about their work with no delay.
Finally, through the characterization of a wild dog and a hunter on his way home from town Welty forms one of the biggest example that Phoenix’s path represents her past with slavery.. First there is the dog, he’s big, intimidating, and attacks Phoenix quickly upon meeting her. This dog also represents the institution of slavery and the slavers themselves. After all, just like the dog they knocked down many black people to a level where they weren’t even truly considered human. Then there is the hunter that helps Phoenix up, he’s strong, has a dog of his own, and may very well represent the American government. After all he helps miss Phoenix up which could represent the government giving slaves a chance of freedom. He also gets rid of the dog, well at least gets it to run away, which represents the government freeing the slaves. There is more to the hunter than just representing the government and aiding the slaves. After all the hunter himself has a dog of his own which may relate to the government using the aid of former slavers to help in keeping the freed slaves under a similar form of control as before. Then there is also the moment when Phoenix takes the coin the hunter dropped and afterwards mentions she has been punished for far less. Phoenix taking the coin dropped may not be a big deal by today’s standards, but after the slaves were freed they were often jailed for things that seem incredibly stupid by todays standards. Phoenix also probably knows that if she is caught the hunter is likely to harm her in some way due to stealing from him. Also, when Phoenix mentions she was punished for far less she likely wasn’t lying seeing as she was likely a slave when she was younger, and slaves could have been punished for almost anything depending upon the master.
In conclusion there are parts of Phoenix’s path that may very well relate to her time in slavery. Such as when she becomes entangled in the thorn bush. When she climbs under the fence and sees the field of big dark trees. Along with when she is attacked by the dog and the hunter saves them. Although all three of these points may seem simple upon looking deeper they have far more to say than what originally meets the eye.
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