Perseverance: A Worn Path on the Road Less

Running head: PERSEVERANCE
Perseverance: A Worn Path on the Road Less Traveled
Jami Lester
ENG 125
April MacGrotty
August 1, 2011
Perseverance: A Worn Path on the Road Less Traveled
How many lives are squandered, living life day to day, taking the easy road? While this
type of life choice requires little effort, consequently, it yields little in return. As the
inspirational author, Rick Warren encourages, we should all desire to live “A Purpose Driven
Life” (Warren, 2002). The Gospel of Luke declares that to whom much is given, much is
required (12:48). In analyzing Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” (as cited in Clugston,
2011, sec. 2.2) and Eudora Welty’s, “A Worn Path,” (as cited in Clugston, 2011, sec. 6.5), there
is a sense of purpose, producing perseverance in the journey of life of each of the protagonists.
In each of these two literary pieces, Frost and Welty each present a perseverant individual that
arrives at the end of their life’s journey, with much to show for their life choices. The theme of
perseverance is strengthened and established through a comparative analysis of these two pieces.
Analyzing the similarities and differences in form and style through the use of various literary
techniques, including: detail in creating character development, plot content, symbolism and
point of view, illuminates the theme presented.
In analyzing these two works, there is the initial most obvious difference, which is the
choice of literary form. Frost presents his readers with a “lyric poem (that) presents the feelings
and emotions…rather than telling a story” (Cummings, n.d.). He stirs the emotions and creates a
passion in the reader to desire to be of integrity, denying the easy road in life and instead,
persevering down “the one less traveled by” (as cited by Clugston, 2011, sec. 2.2).
Eudora Welty, on the other hand, utilizes the form of short story. She presents her
readers with the character, Phoenix Jackson, and through this character, she displays the example
of what that passion and perseverance looks like walked out in life. These works mirror each
other in that Frost’s writing “is simple enough for a child to read, but the meaning is complex
enough to foster scholarly debates and long essays” (Cummings, n.d.). Similarly, Welty’s work
“is most intriguing in terms of its ability to defy simple explanation” (Saunders, 1992, p. 62).
These two pieces are told from separate points of view, however, individually, each
strengthens their own piece by the view it is told from. Frost chose to use the first person, while
Welty chose third person, limited omniscient. The choice of Frost utilizing the first person,
again, creates a stirring in the emotions of the reader to desire to be the “I” in his poem. While
most would like to think they are strong enough in character to choose the tougher road that has
not been cleared, the majority of people tend to follow in line where others have created a nice,
uninterrupted, smooth path. There would be no greater sense of peace than to come to the end of
life’s journey, knowing there was purpose and knowing that the decisions one made along the
way, resemble individuality and perseverance in place of conformity and ease. Frost’s technique
in utilizing first person, strengthens the taste of that vision of character and reveals a glimpse of
its attainability, as the reader speaks these words aloud, in the first person.
Welty’s use of third person limited omniscient presents just as much support to the theme
of purpose and perseverance along life’s journey, in the development of her literary work.
Phoenix’s current life purpose to take care of her ailing grandson and to obtain the medicine for
him, as well as bless him with a Christmas gift, creates the perseverance to continue on her
physical path, as well as her path in life. Welty provides a deeply inspiring individual in Phoenix
and allows the reader to walk alongside Phoenix on her journey through the woods, symbolizing
her journey through life. The reader is allowed knowledge at times of what she is thinking,
gaining insight to how she responds to the difficult circumstances in the world around her. Some
of her thoughts and responses to her trials, and how they lend themselves to the theme, will be
viewed in greater depth in the following sections of this analysis.
Next, exploring the attention to detail in character development, more specifically used
by Welty, and how it continues to lend reinforcement to the theme of perseverance, born of
purpose. These two characters dig deep to be willing to face struggles, in order to fulfill their
purpose and desires in life. Due to the brevity of Frost’s poem there is not extensive character
development. While there is much to be learned from this character, we do not know much
about him or her. Perhaps that is the brilliance behind the seeming simplicity of Frost’s writing,
which propels so much thought. The attention is not on character development, it is on the
choice the character has to make and how that choice will impact their life.
The speaker recognizes that while both paths have the potential to create positive results,
the greater focus is on the extent of ease or difficulty. The reader is given the image of a path
which has been cleared by many, creating the easy avenue. This avenue is typically more widely
accepted, continuing to keep it well traveled and easy. The other path is one which the speaker
will be clearing along the way. This presents the image of the cliché, “a tough row to hoe.”
While the latter is not the easier, it will yield the fruit of “a purpose driven life” (Warren, 2002).
Someone does not choose the tough path without having a reason, or a purpose, for choosing it.
Choices made out of conformity and ease, are not purpose filled. They are merely actions of
following the crowd. The desire is built in the speaker to be able to someday say, choosing the
“one less traveled…has made all the difference” (as cited by Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5). This is
the traveler’s sense of purpose. After the purpose is located in this character, it is followed by
the perseverance that will be necessary to pioneer the path this traveler has chosen.
In analyzing Welty’s character development, the reader is very quickly able to gather that
“Phoenix Jackson’s walk to Natchez demonstrates her will to persevere in a sometimes hostile
world” (Cummings, n.d.). The reader discovers the odds that Phoenix is up against within her
surroundings. The scene opens with the detail that she is “an old negro woman” (as cited in
Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5). The reader is also able to determine that she is in the American South
in the 1940s or earlier. Trial and adversity is part of this character’s birthright and yet
throughout the entire story, we see her continually persevering through obstacles in nature,
symbolic of life. Phoenix’s perseverance is the result of her purpose within her journey.
She pushes past the fears and hazards of encountering all of the “foxes, owls, beetles,
jack rabbits, coons and wild animals” (as cited in Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5), not to mention the
trial of the landscape itself for an elderly woman on foot. These obstacles symbolically reflect
the trials that American History reveals are part of her of her existence. We further receive a
glimpse of her strength in character when she encounters her dress getting snagged on a bush of
thorns. She not only shows her strength at continuing on, she also displays deeper strength in her
attitude towards the character of the bush, or trials in life. She speaks to the bush saying,
“Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir” (as cited in
Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5). Instead of complaining or letting this hinder her from continuing on,
she recognize the trial and the purpose the trial serves.
Welty’s choice in naming her protagonist is meaningful in light of the denotation of the
phoenix in mythical terms, understanding that “only one phoenix exists any time” (Saunders,
1992, p.62). This knowledge emphasizes the symbolic rarity of Phoenix Jackson’s character;
such strength and perseverance, is not found every day. The mere fact that she is physically as
aged as she is, and yet accepted the role and responsibility to be the caregiver to her grandson,
increases the extent of what her character is willing to face and take on in life.
One additional key point where Welty displays Phoenix’s purpose, resulting in her
forceful nature on life’s journey, is the attention to detail in the character development with the
addition of an antagonist, the white hunter. The hunter, while smug in attitude, not only offers to
help her, he offers her a way out of her duty and difficult task at hand. Many of less or weaker
character would agree, accept, and go home. Phoenix, however, does not even take time to think
about what he is offering, she quickly declares to him, “I bound to go to town, mister” (as cited
by Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5).
This attention to detail in character development strengthens the
example of perseverance, despite life’s trials, that Phoenix Jackson lives out.
The final detail in character development, which appears to be under debate, is the
question of the grandson’s mortality. Some readers believe perhaps the boy is already dead,
while others assume him to be alive. Welty herself responds to this debate in a very poignant
way, responding: “To the question ‘Is the grandson really dead?’ I could reply that it doesn’t
make any difference…But my best answer would be: Phoenix is alive” (Pollack, 1997, p. 20).
This response lends credence to the idea of living a life of purpose. Phoenix is alive and it is her
passion and diligence in life that in turn keeps her alive. Taking the easy road in life does not
provide purpose and does not require perseverance, as Phoenix displays.
Shifting to plot content, there are differences, as well as similarities. There is certainly
more detail in the development of plot content within the short story, than within the four stanza
poem. Frost’s poem contains a rhyme scheme that the short story does not. There is one lone
character in this poem, while the short story has several other characters, some that play greater
significance than others.
The similarities, however, are more extensive. The scenes are set outdoors, which will be
addressed in greater detail below. The reader realizes that the conflict that both protagonists face
is the choice to persevere, or take the easy path. Each character will endure their own
consequences no matter which path they choose. For Phoenix, her grandson will suffer without
his medicine, which in turn will lead to her own suffering. For the lone traveler, though he will
miss out on what the easy path holds, more will be gained in the end by choosing the less
frequented path. The choice to take the high road, for each of these characters is a positive
resolve. Phoenix’s grandson will not only receive his medicine but also a gift of a pinwheel for
Christmas. She not only gains all that is to be gained through perseverance but she also gains the
love and life of a child. The lone traveler, gains the peace and encouragement of knowing that
the decision to persevere down the less worn path has had an impact on their life. The decision
to take the more difficult path has its obvious struggles but as the reader can deduce from both of
these pieces, that decision offers much in return.
“To understand literature, is necessary that you ask yourself certain questions, such
as…’why does the author use this particular type of imagery’” (OWL, n.d.)? In light of these
two authors using very similar imagery, this question is that much more essential to answer and
lends greater understanding of the imagery in each piece, and in relation to each other. The
symbolism within the similar imagery of both of these pieces is powerfully relevant to the theme
of perseverance. The most noticeable similarity is the outdoor scenery, and specifically the use
of trees in imagery and symbolism. Trees are a symbol of wisdom and strength. These two
qualities are evident in both the lone traveler in Frost’s piece and Phoenix Jackson, in Welty’s.
Welty takes this symbolic use of imagery a step farther in describing Phoenix visually. In
reference to the wrinkles on Phoenix’s face, Welty writes that it is “as though a whole little tree
stood in the middle of her forehead” (as cited by Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5). The reader gains an
image of what Phoenix looks like with this literal description of her. There is a potential for
deeper understanding in a metaphoric sense of the wisdom and strength that lies beneath her
surface, to what is present in her mind and soul.
Similarly, the reader sees these same qualities in Frost’s traveler. This traveler expresses
wisdom in looking down life’s road to the future at different points. First, this character
acknowledges “how way leads to way… (doubting) if (he/she) should ever come back” (as cited
by Clugston, 2011,sec.2.2) to the option presented by the other road. Later, he or she expresses
the foresight to know what will be said “ages and ages hence” (as cited by Clugston, 2011,
sec.2.2). This character follows this wisdom up with the strength to make the decision to take
the “one less traveled by” (as cited by Clugston, 2011, sec.2.2) and to again display wisdom,
expressing that the decision to not take the typical, easy road, “has made all the difference” (as
cited by Clugston, 2011, sec. 2.2). The tough decisions presented to each of these characters
within the symbolism of nature and the trials that can be experienced, lend credence once again
to the theme of perseverance.
“Wherever you are right now in your life, there lives within you an urge to go deeper. To
be useful. To be alive. When you resist that urge, you kill any chance of living a life of
purpose” (Tesh, 2008). A life of purpose is worth far more than a simple life of walking down
the easy path. While all are presented options in life to take the simple journey or the journey
that requires perseverance, it is the latter that yields the greatest returns in the end. Robert Frost
and Eudora Welty give inspirational accounts, through their protagonists, of living life with
purpose and perseverance. In Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” (as cited by Clugston, 2011,
sec.2.2) and Welty’s, “A Worn Path,” (as cited by Clugston, 2011, sec.6.5) we see the image of
two characters being presented with this choice within their journey’s in life. In the end, Phoenix
has the peace of her perseverant character paying off in fulfilling her purpose for her grandson
and Frost’s traveler has the peace of knowing that his or her choice “has made all the difference”
(as cited by Clugston, 2011, sec.2.2). These two authors create a theme of purpose and
perseverance in the journey of life through their literary work. This theme is strengthened and
established in comparatively analyzing the similarities and differences in form and style through
use of various literary techniques, especially the detail in character development, plot content,
symbolism and point of view.
Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature.
Cummings Study Guide. (n.d.). A Worn Path: A Study Guide. Retrieved from
The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Roane State Community College. (n.d.). The Elements of
Literartue. Retrieved from
Pollack, H. (Summer, 1997) Photographic Convention and Story Composition: Eudora Welty’s
Uses of Detail, Plot, Genre, and Expectation from “A Worn Path” through “The Bride of
the Innisfallen.” South Central Review. 14(2) 20. Retrieved from
Saunders, J.R. (Fall, 1992) “A Worn Path”: The External Quest of Welty’s Phoenix Jackson. The
Southern Literary Journal. 25(1), 62. Retrieved from
Tesh, J. (2008). Intelligence for Your Life. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson
Warren, R. (2002). A Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan