On the surface Eudora Welty' s short story, “A Worn Path", is an account of an old black woman's journey from Old Natchez Trace to Natchez, Mississippi. In fact, some readers may perceive Old Phoenix’s journey and only having ups and downs. However, a second level of interpretation indicates a powerful statement of how death and rebirth can be found in her hardship. This paper will be concerned with three allusions that substantiate the theme of death and rebirth: references to the Phoenix myth from Egyptian mythology, references to slavery, and references to the twelve labors of Hercules. In this way, Old Phoenix is not just another story, but one the readers can learn from. The use of the name “Phoenix” for the main character establishes the story’s connection to the underlying theme of death and rebirth. Phoenix is also the name of a mythological bird that was sacred to the sun god in ancient Egypt. Every 500 years, the bird creates a funeral pyre of its own nest and then rises from the ashes. The character of Phoenix embodies the myth of the phoenix spiritually. Phoenix Jackson resembles the bird that has “brilliant scarlet and gold plumage” in Welty’s own vivid description of her. She writes that Phoenix has “a golden color ran underneath [her skin] and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under dark…” (Welty 1). The woman’s allusion to the phoenix is also established through frequent allusions to birds. She writes of pinecones that drop “as light as feathers” (1). She compares the way Old Phoenix picks up a nickel to “lifting an egg from under a sitting hen” (6). Also, as Old Phoenix steals the nickel, a bird flies by and she experiences this as a symbol of God’s presence.
Phoenix’s life is one of many obstacles and struggles. A closer look at her life shows that the story brings to light the deeper meaning of death and rebirth. Her struggles are similar to the struggles of slaves in the Civil War. Welty incorporates slavery...
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