An Evaluation of Criticism on Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”
Delta State University student, Susan Allen Ford, wrote a poem and entitled it “Chiromancy”. Chiromancy is defined as the prediction of a person's future from the lines on the palms of his or her hands. Her poem expresses this journey of an African American woman in the Alabama March of 1965, but what intrigued me the most were the last few lines of the last stanza: It plunges fearless into hot water,
Gently crumbles clumps of soil from pot-bound roots. With its own knowledge it curves into a caress
At this point in the poem, Ford parallels the curves and shifting directions of the path to the curves and lines of the palm. This is significant because it is as if the path determines the outcome of the journey. This student’s poem shows how vital and significant the journey itself really is to the person on the path. Eudora Welty’s short story, “A Worn Path”, is a narrative that shows the vitality of the journey.
In the story, Phoenix Jackson, an old Negro woman travels down an old, country path to go to into town, Natchez, Mississippi. The reason why she makes this difficult journey routinely is to obtain medicine for her grandson with lye poisoning. While on this particular day, Phoenix has some unusual encounters and distractions. Phoenix envisions a mirage of a young child offering her marble cake while she takes a rest in the middle of her walk. Then, Phoenix is almost attacked by dogs, and she falls into a ditch on her back. A young, white hunter comes to her rescue, scares away the dogs, and helps Phoenix back to her feet. While in conversation, the hunter tries to convince Phoenix to turn around and go home because this journey is unreasonable and too difficult. Even this does not deter Phoenix’s determination to go to town. Once in town, she finds the nurse in the clinic to be very rude and determines Phoenix as “a charity case.” After retrieving her medicine and a monetary donation, she leaves to go buy her grandson a paper windmill.
This story is very short and also vague. At first read, there is not much depth, but while researching critiques on this narrative, I found that it is much more complex then it originally appears. The journey that Phoenix Jackson endures can be interpreted into so many different symbolic purposes. One critic looked at the journey as a representation of the prediction of the civil rights’ movement, while another critic saw the journey as a Christian’s journey. While there are many interpretations, what is interesting is that almost every critique uses the exact same text to prove their argument. I chose to focus on critiques by Jim Owens, Roland Bartel, Neil D. Isaacs, Greg Barnhisel and Dennis J. Sykes, strictly because these critics used the exact textual evidence, but interpreted different evaluations entirely. I would like to present and critique the different interpretations, and show how even the same text can conjure completely different emotion and relativity. I also include Eudora Welty’s own words on why she wrote “A Worn Path” and then I argue my own interpretation of Phoenix’s journey and what I deem significant or interesting.
A Mythological Approach
Critic, Jim Owen, in his journal, The Southern Literary Journal, analyzes the mythological approach to “A Worn Path”. Owens believes that Phoenix’s “race, her gender, her age, her oddity, her frailty, her poverty, her illiteracy all work against her in the segregated patriarchal world of the old deep South, yet she manages alone repeatedly to travel a path fraught with obstacles” (Owens 29). Owens does not only believe that Phoenix Jackson’s journey is symbolic of her triumph over all her setbacks, but it also hyphened with mythical allusions. Just the simple fact that Phoenix was on a journey alone conjures the idea because “travel is naturally vital to both the genres of epic and romance, and by thus paralleling...
Cited: Barnhisel, Greg. “Implications of Race”, Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997.
Bartel, Roland. “Life and Death in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”, in Studies in Short Fiction, October, 1980, pp. 288-290.
Isaacs, Neil D."Life for Phoenix," in The Critical Response to Eudora Welty 's Fiction, edited by Laura Champion, Greenwood Press, 1994, pp. 37−42.
Owens, Jim. The Southern Literary Journal 34.1 2001, pp. 29-43.
Sykes, Dennis J. “Welty’s The Worn Path” in Studies in Short Fiction, October 1980, pp. 151-152.
Welty, Eudora. "Is Phoenix Jackson 's Grandson Really Dead?," in Critical Inquiry, Vol 1, No. 1, September, 1974, pp. 219−21.
Welty, Eudora. The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays and Reviews. New York: Random, 1977.
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