A Worn Path

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Christian Overtones Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Race and Class Theme Icon
Perseverance and Power Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Nature and City Theme Icon
Human Dignity Theme Icon
Christian Overtones Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Worn Path, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Christian Overtones Theme Icon

Phoenix, seeing a bird flying overhead shortly after stealing the nickel, takes the creature to embody God’s judging gaze. “A Worn Path” abounds with Christian images and ideas, from the way Phoenix’s journey on the worn path seems to echo the path etched by Christ carrying the cross, to the way that the woman tying Phoenix’s shoes recalls Mary Magdalene’s washing of Christ’s feet. A phoenix is a bird that rises from its own ashes, a kind of resurrection evocative of Christ’s own. Consequently, the reader can see Phoenix as a type of Christ figure. By connecting Phoenix’s journey to the “journey” of Christ, Welty elevates Phoenix’s small journey to help her grandson into something more profound, suggesting that the “worn path” Jesus tread is not so different from that walked by Phoenix, and by extension that God’s judging gaze is watching, also, how those who encounter Phoenix treat her.

Christian Overtones ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Christian Overtones appears in each chapter of A Worn Path. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Christian Overtones Quotes in A Worn Path

Below you will find the important quotes in A Worn Path related to the theme of Christian Overtones.
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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“Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

As Phoenix walks down the hill, her dress snags against a bushel of thorns. She carefully untangles her dress while addressing the thorns, telling them they are doing their "appointed work" by not letting "folks pass." This passage highlights Phoenix's affectionate, harmonious relationship to nature, even when it causes her difficulty. Although the thorns make it hard for her to walk, Phoenix acknowledges that they are simply doing what thorns are supposed to do, an observation that points to the belief that everything in the world was created by God for a reason.

The religious overtones are emphasized by the symbolic significance of thorns within Christianity, originating in the crown of thorns Jesus was forced to wear at his crucifixion. This connection draws parallels between the hardship Phoenix must endure and the suffering of Christ. Indeed, throughout the story Phoenix exhibits the Christ-like qualities of humility, perseverance, and dignity under pressure. It is only through her humble and dignified perseverance that she is able to gradually make a path for herself, both metaphorically and in the literal sense of navigating the natural landscape. 

“Now comes the trial.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Phoenix has disentangled herself from the thorns, but is then faced with the additional challenge of walking along a log that has fallen over the creek at the bottom of the hill. As she prepares to walk over it, she remarks: "Now comes the trial." Once again, the story elevates Phoenix's simple interactions with the natural landscape into obstacles with a much greater significance. Phoenix's use of the word "trial" again links her experience to that of Christ, and the very fact that she is speaking aloud suggests she does not consider herself alone on her journey. Phoenix's comments also highlight the fact that she has walked on the path many times before and thus knows the challenges that lie along the way. 

“Glad this not the season for bulls…and the good Lord made his snakes to curl up and sleep in the winter.”

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker)
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

Having successfully crossed the creek by walking over the log with her eyes closed, Phoenix pauses to rest by a tree, imagining a little boy bringing her a slice of marble cake. She then leaves the tree and has to climb under a fence, speaking "loudly" to herself as she does so and refusing to get stuck or let her dress get torn. As she continues on her way, she reflects that she is grateful it is "not the season for bulls" and that "the good Lord made his snakes to curl up and sleep." This passage emphasizes Phoenix's strength and humility. Despite all she has endured, she is still grateful that her journey is not even more difficult, and retains a deep faith in God's power over the world around her. 

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. 

"See my shoe," said Phoenix. "Do all right for out in the country, but wouldn't look right to go in a big building." "Stand still then, Grandma," said the lady. She put her packages down on the sidewalk beside her and laced and tied both shoes tightly.

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson (speaker), Woman
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Phoenix has arrived in the town, which is decorated for Christmas. She encounters a lady carrying presents who smells like "the red roses in hot summer," and Phoenix asks her to please tie up her shoe. In this passage, Phoenix explains that her untied shoes "do all right for out in the country," but now that she is in town she needs them to be done up. This scene provides another interesting twist in the depiction of race and class relations. Although the lady's race is not specified, she is probably white and certainly more affluent than Phoenix, as evidenced by the fact that she is wearing perfume and carrying an armful of wrapped presents. 

Despite the imbalance in their racial and class backgrounds, Phoenix does not hesitate in asking the woman to tie her shoe, again revealing her fearlessness and commitment to her own dignity. The reversal in the power relations between the two women recalls Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus, or Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, although in the latter instance it would be not Phoenix who represents Jesus, but the unnamed lady. However, unlike Phoenix, the lady does not exhibit Christlike patience and humility, but rather brusquely instructs: "Stand still then, Grandma."  

“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.