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The Great Depression was one of the most tragic tales in the history of the USA. The economy plummeted, many individuals lost their jobs and their livelihoods and caused massive suffering. The crisis hit the black communities the most as they were known for poverty even before the Depression. The short story titled “A Worn Path,” written by Eudora Welty, explores the life Phoenix Jackson and her interactions with various members of white communities as she takes a long walk along the Natchez Trace in order to help her grandson. The portrayal of the main heroine of the story fluctuates from one scene to another, changing from serene and peaceful during the hike through the woods to polite and guarded when meeting the hunter, and, finally, to humble and self-sacrificing during her conversation with the nurses.
The Portrayal of Phoenix Jackson At the Beginning of the Story
“A Worn Path” starts with describing Phoenix Jackson on her way through the pine forest. The first few paragraphs of the story are dedicated specifically to painting the image of the old Afro-American woman in the mind of the reader by providing details on her appearance, closing, her manners of speech, and her interactions with the surrounding environment (Welty 1). Although Phoenix struggles with overcoming some of the obstacles in her path, she does not seem out of place in the forest.
She recites a proverb to ward off animals, which goes as follows: “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!… Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites… Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way” (Welty 2). The woman shows to be at peace with her own loneliness, and fond of the forest she is tracking through, indicating that she was familiar with these parts. However, the purposes of the journey remain unclear to the audience at this stage.
The Portrayal of Phoenix Jackson In the Middle of the Story
Approaching the middle of the tale, Phoenix Jackson encounters a hunter with a dog. The two exchange a conversation, with the woman being polite but very guarded around the young man. The hunter, while benevolent towards the lady, is also dismissive of her motives to travel across the forest and along the road all along, insisting that she should have stayed at home (Welty 3). He also thinks her to be weak and scared when he fires the gun to scare off a big stray dog.
Based on their conversation, the audience’s perception of Phoenix is transformed and given context. Considering the hints in their conversation, it is possible to guess that she used to be a slave, thus familiar with guns shooting at her ear. The woman is also portrayed as proud and stubborn because, at this point in the story, the hunter’s suggestions make sense. The purpose of the journey is not revealed at the moment.
The final fluctuation in the portrayal of Phoenix Jackson occurs at the end of the story when her motives for undertaking this perilous journey are finally explained. She is presented in a noble, self-sacrificing light, as the audience is told that she traveled so far to get medicine for her sick grandson, who swallowed lye (Welty 4). It is also revealed that the woman has memory loss, which makes the magnitude of her deed even greater.
The portrayal of Phoenix Jackson in “A Worn Path” gradually develops the character in the eyes of the reader, portraying her through interactions with nature and others. Her history and personal qualities are not spelled out, instead shown through direct words and actions. The story itself is filled with a disquieting atmosphere of desperation and depression, which characterizes the chosen historical time period.
Welty, Eudora. A Worn Path. Creative Education, 1997.