A Worn Path

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The Worn Path Symbol Analysis

The Worn Path Symbol Icon
The story can be thought of as a kind of road trip. Phoenix travels over many different kinds of surfaces, from sand, to wagon trails, to sidewalks. She also encounters many obstacles along her path, from the thorns to the stream crossing, to the hunter, scarecrow, and the lone dog. Some of the obstacles are foreseen; most are surprises to her. These shifting elements of the path she walks symbolize Phoenix’s life, with its many and nearly constant difficulties, and yet it also symbolizes the way that, through perseverance, Phoenix has been able to slowly carve out a path through those difficulties, even if it is faint and tenuous. Further, it is possible to see the symbol of the worn path as representative of not just Phoenix’s life, but also the lives of all Southern black people – an encapsulation of the idea that it is both brutally hard and also vital and possible to wear down a path to a better life despite terrible obstacles.

The Worn Path Quotes in A Worn Path

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

“Seems like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far…Something always takes a hold of me on this hill—pleads I should stay.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Worn Path
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

The story opens by introducing Phoenix, an elderly black woman wearing a red rag and unlaced shoes that keep almost tripping her up. Occasionally, she has to shoo animals away, but despite the difficulty of the journey, she perseveres. In this passage, Phoenix reflects that it feels like there are chains on her feet, but that there is nonetheless something about the hill that "pleads" for her to keep going (or "stay" on the path). This point emphasizes the extent to which Phoenix's life is filled with difficulty, but also with a sense of purpose. To some degree, this purpose emerges from Phoenix's love for her grandson. At the same time, Phoenix is also motivated by an internal will to persevere despite the hardship she encounters. 

The fact that Phoenix describes "chains about my feet" reminds the reader that she was born before the abolition of slavery. Now, the memory of slavery haunts Phoenix and the world in which she lives, and is sometimes so strong that it has a physical effect on her. During the 1940s (as in the present), many white people were eager to dismiss slavery as something that happened a long time ago, with little bearing on the present. However, Phoenix's story highlights the way in which the legacy of slavery still has a major impact on the world, particularly in the way African Americans are still held back and oppressed by a racist society. 


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She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around…Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson
Related Symbols: The Worn Path, The Paper Windmill
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Phoenix has resolved to buy her grandson a paper windmill, announcing that she will hold it in her hand for him to see as she returns home. In the final sentences of the novel, she lifts her "free hand" to indicate this plan, and slowly begins her walk to buy the windmill and, ultimately, to return home. The ending of the story, rather than bringing any firm resolution, emphasizes the perpetual struggle of Phoenix's life. Having finally completed the long, arduous trip into town, only moments later Phoenix is faced by the prospect of journeying home again. However, by raising "her free hand," Phoenix demonstrates her ability to overcome this hardship and retain the ability to remain dignified, courageous, and free.

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The Worn Path Symbol Timeline in A Worn Path

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Worn Path 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
...her as she has “a long way” to go. Phoenix continues down the long undulating path. She looks back at where she has come from, thinking about how hard the journey... (full context)