By persevering, by refusing to yield to the inequality forced upon her by her age, race, and class, by demonstrating calm, smarts, and willpower in the face of all obstacles, Phoenix exemplifies a remarkable degree of dignity. Phoenix never appears afraid or threatened, even when, most dramatically, the hunter aims his gun directly at her. Her sense of dignity is evident also when she insists on her shoes being tied, or in the “stiff” and “careful” way she accepts the charity of a nickel given to her. She neither rails against injustice nor stoops in the face of condescension. She proceeds always towards her goal, never losing faith that what she wants is something she deserves, and lets no obstacle derail her.
Phoenix and her journey also offer those she meets the opportunity to respond with the same dignity that she displays, and to do so despite the complicated power dynamics of racial and class divisions in the South. However, not everyone takes the opportunity to treat her with dignity, or even when they do that dignity is complicated by their other behavior. The hunter helps Phoenix but then threatens her, if jokingly, reminding her of the violence done to black people both during slavery and of the lynchings that were common in the post-Slavery South. The hospital attendant gives her a nickel but condescends to her. The woman on the street ties her shoes, but not without issuing a command of her own. In this way the story portrays the ways that common human dignity can both overcome and then, in turn, be by overcome by the vicious divisions of race and class.
Human Dignity ThemeTracker
Human Dignity Quotes in A Worn Path
“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.”
“Now comes the trial.”
"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!"
He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus!"
“He ain’t scared of nobody. He a big black dog.”
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."
“No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done.”
"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.
“Here I be,” she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body.
She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around…Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.