The Journey: Symbolism of “The Road Not Taken” and “A Worn Path”
From their titles, we realize these short stories will take us on a literary journey but what we do not realize are the choices and obstacles the protagonists encounter that adds dimension to the story. The readers’ perceptions about the events are changed by the symbolism surrounding the characters and the conflicts that are presented. “A Worn Path” is a character story told in a third-person point of view about an elderly, colored woman and her journey along a path she has taken many time before. Throughout the story Phoenix is involved in conflict by struggling against nature, social conditions and against her own physical circumstances. From the characters name alone we instantly envision a strong individual, the name implies a mythological creature that it said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage. It was said that only one phoenix existed at any one time with a life expectancy of at least 500 years. As the phoenix approached the end of life, it would build a nest, set fire to it and would die in fire to only rise from the ashes and be stronger. Ironically, Phoenix has her hair in a red rag which correlates with the scarlet plumage of the ancient bird. Her name combined with the first two paragraphs deliver a meticulous description of our character: Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.
She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all near and tidy, but every time she took a stop she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.
Almost immediately we can speculate that her struggle against physical circumstances surrounds her age. Phoenix is visually impaired, “she carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her”. She is not completely blind because later in the story, “…she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man’s pocket on to the ground” which illustrates that Phoenix has the ability of some sight. Her physical limitations make the journey more difficult, “…seems like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” symbolizing the weight of years of her hard life, poverty and despair.
Phoenix is determined to make it to her destination and at the beginning of her journey when she hears a noise in the bushes, she uses her cane to “switch at the brush” and announces to nature: 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.
Her body may be worn out but her attitude and tenacity are still her driving forces. Throughout her journey Phoenix continues to face additional...
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