A Worn Path

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There is no question that Welty knew what she was doing when she chose to name the main character of “A Worn Path” Phoenix Jackson. A Phoenix is a mythological creature that lives for five centuries before burning to ashes. After burning, the creature rises back to life as a young bird from these ashes and the cycle repeats itself without end. That Phoenix shares a name with such a creature reflects her indefatigable nature, her constant striving towards her goal, as well as her unflagging optimism and high spirits. The name also suggests Phoenix’s longevity: though the story takes place in 1941, she was already too old in 1865 to go to school. Like a phoenix, too, she makes her journey again and again without failure. Finally, the phoenix was also seen as a symbol for Christ, who was also resurrected. And so Phoenix’s name also marks her as a Christ figure in the story.

Phoenix Quotes in A Worn Path

The A Worn Path quotes below all refer to the symbol of Phoenix. 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

“We is the only two left in the world. He suffer and it don’t seem to put him back at all…He going to last…I could tell him from all the others in creation.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker), Grandson
Related Symbols: Phoenix
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

The nurse has explained to the attendant that Phoenix comes to get medicine for her grandson, who swallowed lye when he was young and still suffers immensely as a result. While the nurse seems pessimistic about the boy's health, Phoenix speaks about him with a deep sense of faith and love. It is clear from Phoenix's words that her grandson represents not just one individual case, but the whole future of black people in America. Whereas the nurse's view points to the immense difficulty and hardship that Phoenix's grandson experiences, Phoenix remains convinced that there is something special about her grandson that will ensure he endures ("He going to last"). 

Indeed, the character of the grandson can be seen as embodying the symbol of the phoenix, a view emphasized by Phoenix's comment that he sits at home in a quilt "holding his mouth open like a little bird." Through his misfortune and illness, the grandson exists in a state near to death; however, his grandmother maintains that, like the phoenix, he will ultimately survive and flourish. 


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