Phoenix’s Grandson in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”
“A Worn Path” is a short story by Eudora Welty that talks about an old woman who lives in a time characterized by an out of control and rampant racial prejudice. The old woman is referred to as Phoenix Jackson in the story who a grandmother who lives with a sole motivation of nurturing her ailing grandson back to health. Grandmother Phoenix exhibits a strong love bond towards her grandson and is willing to do implausible and unusual things. Eudora writes her book through the central idea of an old woman showing her love to her grandson by conquering all odds against her. However, the reader does not get a clear picture on Phoenix’s grandson. We only get to hear about him since he does not make any appearance. Even with his little contribution in the narrative, it cannot be overlooked that he affects the plot by depicting the theme of love through motivation and emotion elements in his grandmother.
The narrative is told through the mindset of Phoenix as she endeavors to cater for her grandson’s health. The author gives the reader freedom to make his own assumption over the wellbeing of Phoenix’s grandson, whether he is alive or dead. We are invited to believe that Phoenix will hold on to her purpose. As long as she can walk, she will make her journey regardless of what happens. The possibility of her keeping on with the journey is in her devotion and is not dependent whether her grandson was dead or not. To wonder whether the grandson is alive is quite an intriguing thought and the author’s response to this issue proves important. Put into consideration the name Phoenix. This in itself is an illusion to the legendary fame phoenix. With only one that comes into existence each time, this mythical bird self ignites as the story draws to a close and another emerges from the ashes.
In the narrative, Phoenix is described as an old woman with a red rag wrapped on her head, something that relates her with the bird. As she is repeatedly asked about the condition of her grandson at the doctor’s office, she becomes confused until she is overcome with a flicker of recognition as the author puts it. This statement is symbolic to imply that Phoenix is undergoing a self-lighting process where she becomes able to answer the question immediately. In effect, her visit to the doctor’s office to get her grandson’s medicine serves as a rejuvenating experience. She makes her journey on a worn path since she has made this trip too many a time. As she puts it, she and her grandson are the only people remaining in the world, her world. If he departs, then she would be left all alone. She maintains that she has to continue making the trip for the sake of her grandson’s life.
It does not matter whether phoenix’s grandson is dead or alive. She makes the journey because it is what keeps her alive. From her point of view, it is her destiny and a path and pattern familiar to her. Regardless of her skeptical intuition, she intends to make this journey to her last day. It is necessary to recognize the relevance of the metaphorical symbolism of the various obstacles Phoenix encounters in the journey. A definite sense allows us to view this journey from a symbolic and lateral level, as Phoenix portrays grim determination, love, and resolute attitude necessary to overcome many barriers preventing her from achieving her goal.
Eudora Welty seemingly had an intention to leave out Phoenix’s grandson and leave the reader to decide for himself or herself whether he is alive or not, meaning that readers drew two separate interpretations from the narrative. Regardless of what interpretation is being made, Phoenix has an undying love for her grandson, and it is through him that this theme manifests itself. She endeavors to make the arduous journey relentlessly showing her determination. This may be the reason why Welty focuses on her rather than her grandson. However, one can interpret Welty’s statement “Phoenix is Alive” on a strong premise because her grandson lives in her memory.
In this case, we are not aware how long Phoenix has been making this journey or the age of her grandson. However, the title tells us that she has made that trip long enough to cross the log on the creek with her eyes closed. Another conflicting factor we need to put into consideration is the age of Phoenix. Her conversation with the nurse at the clinic allows us to know that she was too old to attend school at her time implying that this was in 1865. At the very least, Phoenix has to be 80 years old. Therefore, unless the other character is her great grandson, she is past the age of having a grandson too young. Furthermore, the nurse states that the doctor permits Phoenix access to medicine provided she comes to get it. If her grandson were in a desperate situation requiring medical intervention, then she would make sure he gets the medicine. This is just another conflicting factor that supports the perception that her grandson is alive.
Other than the physical challenges Phoenix encounters in her journey, she also succumbs to mental problems from her situation. She has no choice but to try to overcome her weariness because of her mental fatigue and old age. In the course of her journey, he mind begins playing tricks on her. One scenario is when she mistakenly perceives a scarecrow for a mysterious person that frightens her. Another example occurs when she engages in a conversation with herself and the wild animals. She warns them not to get in between her and her goal. This love and determination cannot be truly appreciated unless the recipient understands what is at stake and the efforts put into action. The grandson may be too young or ill to understand what his grandmother is going through for his safety.
The love empowerment enables Phoenix to overcome her odds and complete her expedition. This narrative allows the reader to picture the love bond between these two characters. Indeed, even though the boy does not make an appearance in the narrative, one cannot overlook the fact the he plays a crucial role in affecting the plot of the narrative. He does so by depicting the theme of love between him and his grandmother as well as bringing out the element of motivation, conflict, and emotion. Perhaps it was a wise choice for Welty to leave him out of the plot and achieve the aspect depicting the elements.