A Worn Path

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Nature and City 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.
Nature and City Theme Icon

“A Worn Path” begins in a rural area some distance outside the city of Natchez, Mississippi and moves along with Phoenix as she walks towards the hospital in the center of the city. The rural road is arduous, causing Phoenix to fall into a ditch, and at that moment it seems likely that Phoenix’s trip will get easier once she gets into the “paved city.” Yet there are also aspects of nature that fill Phoenix with joy, and as she enters the city it becomes clear that while the physical path is more sure, there is danger, perhaps greater danger, in the social realities of a populated place.

At first, the hunter, who lives in the city but goes out in the country to hunt, attempts to dissuade Phoenix from going to the city at all, essentially asserting that it is a place where she does not belong. When Phoenix does reach the city, her lack of place there is emphasized by her inability to read the document on the wall of the doctor’s office. The city requires an education Phoenix never received. Yet Phoenix asserts her belonging and presence in the city – her right to occupy the entirety of the world around her – by proclaiming, “Here I be.”

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Nature and City ThemeTracker

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Nature and City Quotes in A Worn Path

Below you will find the important quotes in A Worn Path related to the theme of Nature and City.
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. 

“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. 

“This the easy place. This the easy going.”

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

Phoenix has encountered a scarecrow, at first mistaking it for a ghost. Once she realizes her mistake, she laughs and dances with the scarecrow before continuing on her way. Then she reaches the wagon trail, which is pleasant and easier to walk over. She tells herself to "walk pretty," as this is the easy part of her route. This moment in the story highlights the idea that difficult experiences will eventually give way to happiness and ease, a notion that again has religious overtones, pointing to the concept of heaven. However, as will soon be revealed, Phoenix is mistaken in assuming that this part of her journey will be less arduous. Although the path is flat, the presence of white people turns out to be much more of a threat than the natural landscape.

"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.  

“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. 

"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."  

She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.

Related Characters: Phoenix Jackson
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Phoenix has arrived at the doctor's office, where she encounters a document (probably the doctor's diploma) with a gold seal in a gold frame "which matched the dream that was hung up in her head." This detail provides both a sobering and uplifting perspective on Phoenix's life. On one level, it is a tragic example of all the opportunities that have not been available to Phoenix. The fact that Phoenix's "dream" is described in such lyrical terms––especially in the midst of a rather straightforward narrative––emphasizes the power of Phoenix's hope and imagination. At the same time, this passage may also refer to Phoenix's memory of the doctor's office and highlight the impressive fact that it is Phoenix's excellent memory that allows her to navigate the trip to town in spite of her poor eyesight. 

“Here I be,” she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body.

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

Having arrived in town and stepped into the doctor's office, Phoenix proudly announces, "Here I be." The "fixed and ceremonial stiffness" with which she stands emphasizes that this is a moment of triumph for Phoenix. Despite being a seemingly ordinary errand, Phoenix's journey into town for her grandson's medicine is elevated in the story to the status of a treacherous, heroic journey. Although no one at the doctor's office acknowledges her triumph, this seems to matter little to Phoenix, who takes it upon herself to quietly assert the significance of the moment.

Phoenix's words in particular highlight how meaningful her actions are, especially for an old black woman in the Jim Crow South. As the encounter with the hunter revealed, Phoenix's very existence (let alone her fearlessness, perseverance, and dignity) is radical, given the time and place in which she lives. By announcing "Here I be," Phoenix subtly acknowledges and honors the importance of her own existence.