A Character Study: Phoenix Jackson

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Phoenix Jackson, the main character of “A Word Path”, by Eudora Welty, is a determined and giving Negro woman, who, despite her old age and fading independence, frequently makes a long and hard journey to town to help her grandson.

The whole story takes place in about a day’s time -- yet this small glimpse into her long life is enough time for the author to convey to the reader who exactly this character is, both physically and psychologically.

Physically, she is a frail, old woman. She wears a red rag over her head, and carries a thin, small cane, which is fashioned from an umbrella. With her blue eyes, she walks toward town in her long, darkly striped dress with an apron of equal length. Her skin is full of “numberless branching wrinkles”.

She lives about a day’s walk from a town called Natchez in Mississippi, in the early 1900’s. Her unfortunate time of birth lead to one of her most prominent characteristics, which is her lack of education – although one must keep in mind that she more than makes of for her lack of education through her knowledge of age, and her steadfastness. She was born in a time where her teens would be stolen by the American Civil War, and, at the time of the surrender, she was already too old to attend school. This would make her nearly 100 years old. It is evident by the context of the story, and by the way that the white man that she meets treats her, that she is an ex-slave. Throughout the story, there are constant descriptive metaphors of things that are black, which represent Phoenix. For example, “Big dead trees, like black men with one arm, were standing in the purple stalks of the withered cotton field”. Of all the metaphors the author could have used, she chose one with the words black; withered; one arm; cotton field. This shows the harsh times that Phoenix had to go through to become who she is today. The fast that the ‘black men’ have one arm conveys the idea of hardship, along with the withered cotton fields....
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