Symbolism in a Worn Path

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Symbolism In Life and Death
Jennifer Candis
ENG 125
Ms. AltfeldFisher
June 13, 2011

The short stories A Worn Path by Eudora Welty and Used To Live Here Once by Jean Rhys both carry the theme, symbolism of a journey. In both writings the authors used people, places and things to symbolize something extra, expanding the stories into more than just what is read. I chose these stories because they both consist of strong symbolic references to life. Each story was written in a third-person point of view and consisted of a journey made by the main characters, which in both cases happened to be a black woman. Although in one story the character was already dead and in the other, fighting death, there are many similarities between the stories told. In A Worn Path, Phoenix Jackson is an elderly woman that encroaches on what appears to be a physically demanding trek through the forest. Already, the symbolism begins with the name of the woman. A phoenix is a mythical Egyptian bird symbolizing immortality and resurrection that rises from its own ashes and creates another phoenix (N. Isaacs, 1963), symbolizing the perseverance of life. Right away, the reader is made aware that Phoenix’s character is a fighter. It becomes more apparent throughout the story. Phoenix is facing death in her old age and refuses to give in. Along her journey, she reaches a hill and she says, "Something always take a hold of me on this hill– pleads I should stay," (Journey Into Literature, R.W. Clugston, 2010). I believe it is suggested at this point that she questions her strength to press on, not only against the hill but also against death. Her decision to accept this challenge shows her strength and determination live on. Once Phoenix had made it “up through pines,” she then faced the challenge of, “down through oaks” (R.W. Clugston, 2010), in which time a bush snagged the dress she had worn. This could be suggestive of an obstacle or deterrent that any person could face during their lifetime, a sort of hiccup that gets in the way of where we are going. It is about the way in which we handle this annoyance and press on. The question that arises at this point is whether or not the old woman will have the might to carry on. She mentions that she was deceived by the thorny bush and had thought that it was just a “pretty little green bush,” (R.W. Clugston, 2010). This may symbolize the trials that people face in life. Sometimes things appear at first to be one thing, when in fact the outcome is unexpected. However distracting, Phoenix manages to become free of the bush, and without damaging her dress in the process. I found this an interesting detail because while she could have just ripped herself free of the bush, she took the time and showed patience in making sure the thorns would not leave their mark on her clothes. This seems to be a reference to her age and wisdom. With such a big task ahead of her, the time she took to spare her clothes imply that she is mature and not quick to make brash decisions. There is also a strong reference to Christmas throughout the story of Phoenix’s journey. The colors red and green appear many times starting with the description of the old woman’s hair which was tied with a red rag, her travelling through pinewoods which are green and also used as Christmas trees, she comes across mistletoe after conquering the hill and upon arriving in town she sees someone carrying presents wrapped in green, red and silver. Christmas is a holiday that everyone knows of. Most recognize the Christmas season to be cheerful and one in which gift giving is a popular tradition. We do know that Phoenix was on her way to town to pick up medicine for her grandson and received a small monetary gift and used to purchase her grandson a small present. The giving of a gift that was used to purchase another is a generous symbol of what Christmas represents and was strongly displayed here. In Used To Live...
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