A Worn Path

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The hunter appears relatively briefly in the story, but he unforgettably exemplifies the racial politics that Phoenix has to deal with in her day-to-day life. Though at first he aids Phoenix when she has fallen in a ditch, he afterwards rather casually points a gun at her to see if it frightens her. The casualness of his action speaks to how little he actually cares for her as a human, and expresses his sense of racial superiority. The hunter also tells Phoenix that she should give up her journey and go back home, as he cannot imagine her – or any black person – possessing a legitimate reason for being out on the road to go to town. Condescending and superior, the hunter still gets duped by Phoenix when she takes advantage of his racism and urges him to get rid of the “big black dog” who isn’t “scared of nobody.” Ironically, he later tells her that he would give her a dime if he had any money, though he does not realize that she has already taken the nickel that has fallen out of his pocket.

Hunter Quotes in A Worn Path

The A Worn Path quotes below are all either spoken by Hunter or refer to Hunter. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Class Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt Brace edition of A Worn Path published in 1982.
A Worn Path Quotes

"Why, that's too far! That's as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for my trouble." He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was one of the bob-whites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead. "Now you go on home, Granny!"

Related Characters: Hunter (speaker), Phoenix Jackson
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

Phoenix has fallen into a ditch and been helped to her feet by a young white hunter. When he asks her where she's from, she explains that she lives "away back yonder," further than can be seen from where they are standing. The hunter replies that Phoenix has travelled "too far," and urges her to return home. He mentions that he also travels a long way, but at least gets the spoils of hunting for his trouble. This exchange reveals how the hunter's surface-level friendliness masks far more sinister sentiments. His use of the term "Granny" may appear familiar and affectionate, but is in fact patronizing and reveals the hunter's sense of entitlement. This notion is confirmed by the fact that he feels able to tell Phoenix what to do. 

The threatening side of the hunter's character is also symbolized by the dead animal in his bag. The "little closed claw" and "beak hooked bitterly" reveal the violent power the hunter has over more vulnerable beings, whether animals or Phoenix herself. While the hunter may appear pleasant and kind on the surface, his presence in fact has the potential to be dominating and tyrannical. As a young white man, he has total control over the situation, including the power of life and death.  

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He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus!"

Related Characters: Hunter (speaker), Phoenix Jackson
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

Having been told by the hunter to go home, Phoenix insists that she must go into town because "the time come around." In response, the hunter laughs and says he knows "old colored people" won't miss a chance to go and "see Santa Claus." The hunter's comments exemplify his patronizing and demeaning attitude toward Phoenix and other black people. His claim to "know" that Phoenix is going to see Santa Claus is both mistaken and belittling, as it likens elderly black people to children. The fact that Phoenix doesn't correct him also shows the power the hunter has over her, a power she is forced to accept. Indeed, this power is symbolized by the way that the hunter's laughter is described as "filling the whole landscape," emphasizing his dominance over the region.

“He ain’t scared of nobody. He a big black dog.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker), Hunter
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

As the hunter and Phoenix are talking, she has noticed a nickel fall out of his pocket onto the ground. She attempts to distract the hunter by pointing to the dog, laughing and saying "he ain't scared of nobody." This effort to distract the hunter so she can steal the nickel is cunning, and reveals that Phoenix strategically uses her own vulnerability to manipulate the hunter. Although she pretends to want the hunter's protection from the dog, in reality there is a parallel between Phoenix herself and the animal. Both "ain't scared of nobody," despite the very real threat that people like the hunter pose to them. This connection suggests that fear is a matter of attitude and endurance; no matter one's vulnerability, it is always possible to choose not to be afraid. 

Phoenix heard the dogs fighting, and heard the man running and throwing sticks. She even heard a gunshot. But she was slowly bending forward by that time, further and further forward, the lids stretched down over her eyes, as if she were doing this in her sleep. Her chin was lowered almost to her knees. The yellow palm of her hand came out from the fold of her apron. Her fingers slid down and along the ground under the piece of money with the grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a setting hen. Then she slowly straightened up, she stood erect, and the nickel was in her apron pocket. A bird flew by. Her lips moved. "God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing."

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker), Hunter
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Phoenix has distracted the hunter by encouraging him to set his own dog loose on the stray black dog that made her fall into a ditch. While the dogs fight, Phoenix slowly but skillfully picks up the nickel from the ground and puts it in her pocket. As soon as this is done, she notices a bird fly by, and acknowledges that God is watching her and has seen that she has been reduced to stealing. This passage reveals the complex ways in which Phoenix is forced to navigate the world in order to survive. Her skill in distracting the hunter from the nickel suggests that it is perhaps not the first time she has stolen something, and also that she is accustomed to being watched closely. 

Although Phoenix appears to feel guilty about the fact that God has seen her take the nickel, the actions of the hunter highlight the moral ambiguity of the situation. The hunter's arrogant dominance and Phoenix's frailty and poverty point to the vast injustice of the society in which they live. Meanwhile, the larger setting of the story--in the middle of a rural landscape filled with nonhuman animals--indicates that Phoenix's actions are a matter of survival more than morality. Like the plants and animals along the path, Phoenix must do what she can to get by in a treacherous world. Phoenix's statement that God is watching her "the whole time" indicates that God sees her steal, but also understands the circumstances which led her to commit this act. 

“No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker), Hunter
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

The hunter has successfully scared off the dog, and when he returns he laughs and points his gun at Phoenix. She stands very still, but when the hunter asks if she's scared, she says that she isn't; she's seen plenty of guns go off "for less than what I done." Phoenix's stoic courage during this moment is again almost Christ-like, and confirms the parallel between her and the dog who "ain't scared of nobody." Although the hunter displays his absolute power over Phoenix by pointing the gun at her, by reacting in such a dignified manner Phoenix asserts herself as the more powerful and righteous person in their exchange. 

Phoenix's comment that she has seen plenty of guns go off "for less than what I done" contains multiple levels of meaning. It is possible that Phoenix thinks that the hunter has seen her steal the money, and is thus commenting that she has seen black people killed for stealing less than a nickel. However, her statement can also be interpreted more broadly. During the Jim Crow era, the legal system and culture of the South conspired to criminalize black people simply for existing, and black people were regularly violently attacked and killed for doing nothing at all. Phoenix is evidently accustomed to this kind of undeserved, hateful violence, which helps explain her (seemingly) casual reaction to the hunter's gun.

“I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you.”

Related Characters: Hunter (speaker), Phoenix Jackson
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Impressed by Phoenix's calm reaction to the gun being pointed at her, the hunter has commented that she must be a hundred years old and afraid of nothing. He claims he would give her money if he had some, a statement that the hunter intends to be a lie but is in fact, unbeknownst to him, the truth. Although he doesn't know it, the hunter has "given" Phoenix money––the nickel she stole after it fell from his pocket. This strange convergence of truth and lies highlights the complexity of relations between white and black people in the Jim Crow South, indicating that nothing is what it seems.

Having violently frightened Phoenix, the hunter pretends to be generous and compassionate; yet both Phoenix and the reader know he is lying about not having any money. Moreover, the hunter's "advice" that Phoenix stay home might at first sound well-intentioned, but the broader context of their encounter reveals this to be a threat. Both characters have acknowledged that Phoenix could be killed simply for walking along the path into town. By encouraging her to stay at home, the hunter is effectively warning her not to challenge the violent system of white supremacy that governs Phoenix's life. 

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Hunter Character Timeline in A Worn Path

The timeline below shows where the character Hunter appears in A Worn Path. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Worn Path
Race and Class Theme Icon
Perseverance and Power Theme Icon
Nature and City Theme Icon
Human Dignity Theme Icon
Christian Overtones Theme Icon
A white hunter, a young man, soon comes along, with a dog on a chain. He laughingly asks... (full context)
Race and Class Theme Icon
Perseverance and Power Theme Icon
Human Dignity Theme Icon
Christian Overtones Theme Icon
Phoenix does not correct the hunter’s lack of understanding, and in fact keeps very still, because she’s noticed that a nickel... (full context)
Race and Class Theme Icon
Perseverance and Power Theme Icon
Nature and City Theme Icon
Human Dignity Theme Icon
Christian Overtones Theme Icon
The hunter comes back after scaring off the dog, and, laughing, points the gun at Phoenix and... (full context)