“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • Introduction: • Phoenix Jackson, the main character in this story, addresses the natural world as if it were an old acquaintance. There are many instances where Phoenix relates to the landscape like another person. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • Literary Analysis: • An archetype is a plot structure, character type, symbol, or idea that recurs in the literature or mythology of many different cultures across the world. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 Literary Analysis: The hero’s quest is one archetypal plot structure. Classic quest tales follow a certain structure and share certain elements: • The hero is on a journey to obtain something of great value. • The hero encounters obstacles that test his or her character. • The hero overcomes these obstacles, often with the aid of others, and often at great sacrifice. • The hero receives a boon, or benefit, that is used to help others. • The hero’s quest symbolizes the larger journey of life. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • As its title suggests, “A Worn Path” features a traveler on a familiar road. • Phoenix Jackson, an elderly black woman in Depression-era Mississippi, faces a range of obstacles as she progresses through the landscape. • Some of these obstacles are physical and some are societal. • Elements of the story mirror the structure of the hero’s quest archetype. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 Vocabulary: • Grave: serious • Persistent: repeated; continual • Limber: flexible • Obstinate: stubborn “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • This story is a portrait of Phoenix Jackson, an elderly southern black woman who makes an arduous journey into town to obtain medicine for her grandson. • She overcomes one real or imagined obstacle after another. • Her interactions with white people and nature reveal character – she is at once determined, confused, and tired. • But she leaves the doctor’s office with the medicine, proudly determined to purchase as simple Christmas gift for her grandson. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • The Phoenix • The name Phoenix refers to the mythological Egyptian bird that was reborn from the ashes of its own funeral pyre. • The phoenix was believed to have a very long life. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • What are some of Phoenix Jackson’s distinguishing features? p. 849 • Her eyes, her wrinkles, the golden color of her kin, her burning cheeks, and her black hair. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 Archetype of the Quest • A hero goes on a quest to obtain something valuable but must overcome many obstacles to get it. • What first obstacle does Phoenix encounter? • p. 850 Her first obstacle is the uphill climb. She is elderly and feels as if there were chains weighing down her feet. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • Re-read the passage on p. 850 “Her fingers were busy and intent…” • How does Phoenix perceive her situation? • She thinks she is in serious trouble, in a metaphorical “thorny bush.” “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • P. 851 • Obstacles a hero face are a test of character. What heroic trait does Phoenix display in her encounter with “the ghost”? • Phoenix displays great courage. The way she laughs at herself also shows humility or wisdom. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • P. 851 What is Phoenix Jackson’s attitude as she walks? • She is determined, even as she struggles with obstacles and her own confusion. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 p. 853 What element of the hero’s quest might the hunter represent? • The hunter represents the overcoming of an obstacle with the help of another. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • Reading Strategy: Asking questions can help you make predictions about the story. • What question might you ask about the nickel’s importance in the story? • Why does Phoenix steal the nickel? What does this incident show about her? • Possible answers: She steals it because she is very poor. The incident shows both her sense of poverty and her moral sense. • Prediction: The reader might predict she will use it to buy food. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • Who comes along to help Phoenix on her way? • A young hunter who is passing by stops to help her. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • P. 854 Does Phoenix pass the “test” of the hunter? Explain. • Phoenix passes the test decisively. At a time when many whites placed little value on the lives of African Americans, she showed tremendous courage by just standing her ground and facing the hunter when he pointed his gun at her. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • P. 854 What questions might you ask about the big building and the goal of Phoenix’s quest? • Possible Questions: Why does the author not identify the building with the gold seal? What is significant about the building? • Possible answers: The author is describing the building as Phoenix sees it, the way she described the other places Phoenix went through. The building is a clinic or doctor’s office. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 • Why is Phoenix at the doctor’s office? • To get medicine for her grandson, who suffers the lingering effects of swallowing lye. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 p. 856 Critical Reading #1 a) How does the young hunter address Phoenix? b) What contradictory attitudes toward Phoenix does the hunter express? • a)The hunter speaks to her in a condescending way. b) The hunter is both kind and mean. He helps her get out of the ditch and scares away the dog, but he also points the gun at her and pretends to threaten her. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 p. 856 Critical Reading #2. In mythology, the phoenix is a bird that rises from the ashes. Why do you think Welty named the main character of this story Phoenix? • She is named Phoenix because she rises from every obstacle, and completes her journey. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 p. 856 Critical Reading #3 a) At the end of the story, do you think Phoenix’s grandson is alive? Explain. b) Why do you think Welty does not clarify this ambiguity? • a) Possibly, he is alive, and Phoenix undertook the journey because she saw that he was sick when she was home, and her forgetting him was a mental lapse caused by old age. • b) Welty does not clarify the ambiguity because the story is about Phoenix’s quest and her courage and perserverance, not about her grandson. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty pp. 848-856 p. 856 Critical Reading #4 Does Phoenix seem more “at home” in the natural landscape or in the social landscape of Depression-era Mississippi? • She is not wholly at home in either landscape, due, at least in part, to faulty perceptions. Getting around the natural landscape presents numerous physical trials for Phoenix to her poor eyesight and advanced age. The social landscape presents emotional trials because of her lack of status, resulting from racial differences and whites’ perception of her as a charity case. Welty uses both settings to develop her main character’s heroic qualities.