Eudora Welty's A Worn Path
Length: 860 words (2.5 double-spaced pages)
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The stories meld together into a long history of oppression. Slave ships transport thousands of Africans from the Gold Coast into America's grip, callously beginning black America's racial saga. Laborers collapse after hours of shredding their fingers on cotton plants. Sobbing mothers tenderly clean up the flesh that cat-o-nine tails ripped off their child's back. America eventually witnesses the Emancipation of slaves, and even relative "equality," but an African American's obstacles will never completely subside. Eudora Welty, in her short story "A Worn Path," symbolically illustrates the hurdles that African Americans face: hurdles that white Americans never had to face. Welty symbolically shows, through the perseverance of an aging black woman, that African Americans can and must conquer these unjust obstacles in order to complete the path to racial equality.
In each of the roadblocks that she encounters, the protagonist Phoenix Jackson metaphorically confronts the underlying struggles African Americans face. While traveling to town to acquire medicine for her grandson, Phoenix must untangle her dress from a thorny bush. She must climb through a barbed-wire fence. She gets knocked into a ditch by a loose dog. She faces the barrel of a white man's gun. Though these events could have happened to anyone, Welty intends to allude to racism. The hunter would have helped Phoenix, were she white, to her destination. The attendant at the health clinic would have addressed her more respectfully than "Speak up, Grandma... Are you deaf?" (Welty 97). And were she white, she would not be facing these trials alone; someone would have joined her on the journey or simply gone to get the medicine for her. Each of these events, though, represents a larger scope: an unkind racial slur, a separate and run-down restroom, or a hateful stare, humbling a colored person to hang his head in shame.
Instead of being accompanied on the road, as an elderly person deserves, Phoenix must deal with her problems herself. In depicting Phoenix's perseverance for her grandson, Welty demonstrates the importance of combatting racism. The grandson represents the younger generation, the generation worth sacrificing for. Welty recognizes that the path to equality will be hard: "Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far... Something always take a hold of me on this hill? pleads I should stay" (94). Phoenix faces tests like crossing the log above the stream and getting past memories of bulls and two-headed snakes.
But in the end, the reader sees just how precious her final destination is. For just as the grandson wrapped up in the patch quilt at home moves Phoenix to journey all the way to town, the sweet taste of equality should motivate black people to persevere through their unfair obstacles. A worthy goal truly justifies struggling through a long journey, and Welty implies that fighting racism is just as important as keeping a suffering grandchild alive.
In her symbolism, Welty demonstrates exactly why racial equality is so important. African Americans slaves would toil through each day, wondering if they would still be alive at dusk. Phoenix similarly trembles in fear at the thought of an approaching ghost. "'Ghost,' she said sharply, 'who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by'" (95). Slave mothers would likely show the same wary fear as they watched the shadows returning from the fields, asking "Is my child still alive? Will he make it through the night?" And as Phoenix stares down the cold barrel of the hunter's gun, she surprisingly shows no fear. This unusual courage alludes to just how deeply racism has stretched. A human being would understandably show fear when facing a gun, but to confront danger so nonchalantly simply defies human nature. But after years and years of white people captivating them as savages, black Americans eventually learned to face persecution head-on. They grew to expect it, doing so even today, and learned to say prayers of thanks after simply making it through each day. "'Doesn't the gun scare you?' [the hunter] said, still pointing it. 'No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done'" (97). Through these conflicts in her story, Welty demonstrates racism's perversion, that African Americans must struggle to better their human status. As Phoenix continues on her journey, despite her odds as an elderly black woman, African Americans must also continue on toward sweet equality.
The short story "A Worn Path" depicts through both symbolism and perseverance, the obstacles that African Americans face on their path to racial equality. Because she travels as a black woman, Phoenix encounters hurdles that an elderly white woman would likely bypass. Though Phoenix exhibits enough willpower and strength to overcome such adversity, Welty hints to the reader that this woman should not have to face this journey as she did. In radiating determination, Phoenix actually compels the reader to renounce racism, and to see just how important this struggle for equality is; just as a loving parent would endure through any obstacle for his or her child, so must African Americans persist to attain equality.